Theism, Wednesday, and Not Being Adopted

post by Alicorn · 2009-04-27T16:49:32.087Z · score: 53 (77 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 341 comments

(Disclaimer: This post is sympathetic to a certain subset of theists.  I am not myself a theist, nor have I ever been one.  I do not intend to justify all varieties of theism, nor do I intend to justify much in the way of common theistic behavior.)

I'm not adopted.  You all believe me, right?  How do you think I came by this information, that you're confident in my statement?  The obvious and correct answer is that my parents told me so1.  Why do I believe them?  Well, they would be in a position to know the answer, and they have been generally honest and sincere in their statements to me.  A false belief on the subject could be hazardous to me, if I report inaccurate family history to physicians, and I believe that my parents have my safety in mind.  I know of the existence of adopted people; the possibility isn't completely absent from my mind - but I believe quite confidently that I am not among those people, because my parents say otherwise.

Now let's consider another example.  I have a friend who plans to name her first daughter Wednesday.  Wednesday will also not be adopted, but that isn't the part of the example that is important: Wednesday will grow up in Provo, Utah, in a Mormon family in a Mormon community with Mormon friends, classmates, and neighbors, attending an LDS church every week and reading scripture and participating in church activities.  It is overwhelmingly likely that she will believe the doctrines of the LDS church, because not only her parents, but virtually everyone she knows will reinforce these beliefs in her.  Given the particular nuances of Mormonism as opposed to other forms of Christianity, Wednesday will also be regularly informed that several of these people are in a position to have special knowledge on the subject via direct prayer-derived evidence2 - in much the same way that her parents will have special knowledge of her non-adopted status via direct experience when she wasn't in a state suitable to notice or remember the events.  Also, a false belief on the subject could have all kinds of bad consequences - if the Muslims are right, for instance, no doubt Hell awaits Wednesday and her family - so if she also correctly assumes that her parents have her best interests at heart, she'll assume they would do their best to give her accurate information.

Atheism tends to be treated as an open-and-shut case here and in other intellectually sophisticated venues, but is that fair?  What about Wednesday?  What would have to happen to her to get her to give up those beliefs?  Well, for starters, she'd have to dramatically change her opinion of her family.  Her parents care enough about honesty that they are already planning not to deceive her about Santa Claus - should she believe that they're liars?  They're both college-educated, clever people, who read a lot and think carefully about (some) things - should she believe that they're fools?  They've traveled around the world and have friends like me who are, vocally, non-Mormons and even non-Christians - should she believe that her parents have not been exposed to other ideas?

Would giving up her religion help Wednesday win?  I don't think her family would outright reject her for it, but it would definitely strain those valued relationships, and some of the aforementioned friends, classmates, and neighbors would certainly react badly.  It doesn't seem that it would make her any richer, happier, more successful - especially if she carries on living in Utah3.  (I reject out of hand the idea that she should deconvert in the closet and systematically lie to everyone she knows.)  It would make her right.  And that would be all it would do - if she were lucky.

Is it really essential that, as a community, we exclude or dismiss or reflexively criticize theists who are good at partitioning, who like and are good at rational reasoning in every other sphere - and who just have higher priorities than being right?  I have priorities that I'd probably put ahead of being right, too; I'm just not in a position where I really have to choose between "keeping my friends and being right", "feeling at home and being right", "eating this week and being right".  That's my luck, not my cleverness, at work.

When Wednesday has been born and has learned to read, it would be nice if there were a place for her here.

 

1I have other evidence - I have inherited some physical characteristics from my parents and have seen my birth certificate - but the point is that this is something I would take their word for even if I didn't take after them very strongly and had never seen the documentation.

2Mormons believe in direct revelation, and they also believe that priesthood authorities are entitled to receive revelations for those over whom they have said authority (e.g. fathers for their children, husbands for their wives, etc.).

3I have lived in Salt Lake City, and during this time was, as always, openly an atheist.  Everyone was tolerant of me, but I do not think it improved my situation in any way.

341 comments

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comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2009-04-27T18:36:57.626Z · score: 69 (75 votes) · LW · GW

This post raises a whole constellation of connected questions, so here are my thoughts on all of them:

If the question is "Can Wednesday be religious and still be a smart person who's good at using rationality?", the answer is empirically yes (eg Robert Aumann).

If the question is "Can we still call Wednesday rational if she's religious?" the answer is to taboo "rational" and let the problem take care of itself.

If the question is "Is it okay for Wednesday to be religious?" the question is confused in the first place and any answer would be equally confused.

If the question is "Should Wednesday choose to believe religion?" the answer is that you don't voluntarily choose your beliefs so it doesn't matter.

If the question is "Should Wednesday, while not exactly choosing to believe religion, avoid thinking about it too hard because she thinks doing so will make her an atheist?," then she's already an atheist on some level because she thinks knowing more will make her more atheist, which implies atheism is true. This reduces to the case of deception, which you seem to be against unconditionally.

If the question is "Should I, as an outside observer, do my best to convince Wednesday religion is wrong?" the answer depends on your moral system. I'm a utilitarian, so I would say no - I think it's a background assumption here that she's happier being deceived. I know you're not a utilitarian, so you'd have to work it out in whatever system you use.

If the question is "Should we at Less Wrong exclude all theists?", my answer is of course not. If they want to come here and talk about prisoners dilemmas or the Singularity or something, then of course we should welcome their opinions.

If the question is "Should we at Less Wrong tell all theists they can't talk about how great religion is?" my answer is a qualified "yes". Not because we specifically hate religion, but for the same reason we don't allow posts explicitly about politics. There are places for those debates, this isn't one of those places, and having them completely changes the feel of a community and saps its energy.

If the question is "Should we at Less Wrong stop acting like atheism is an open-and-shut case?," my answer is "no". Sometimes in order to move on, we've got to accept certain assumptions. For example, even though there are a few hard-core steady state theorists out there, most astronomers have accepted the Big Bang as a default assumption because they can get more done by building on Big Bang theory and working out its exact implications then they can debating the last few steady-staters ad nauseum or refusing to even mention the beginning of the universe because it might exclude someone. Christians work in exactly the same way; when they want to discuss obscure points of theology, they start from the assumption that God exists and work from there, although they'll discard that assumption when they're debating an atheist. I don't hold it against these Christians - they'd hardly be able to do theology without it - and I hope they don't hold it against us.

If the question is "Should we at Less Wrong stop saying mean things about religion?" then my answer is that we should never deliberately say mean things just for the sake of saying mean things, but that if it's absolutely necessary to condemn religion to make some greater point (like to use it as an example of a bias towards anthropomorphism) then it's not worth refraining from it to prevent potentially some hypothetical theist from feeling excluded. However, writers should make sure to phrase it as neutrally and non-insultingly as possible, something atheists are generally bad at.

If the question is "What kind of person would name their daughter Wednesday?", I have no good answer. Maybe someone who really, really liked the Thursday Next books?

Also, this wins my prize for most intriguing title on LW so far.

comment by Simetrical · 2009-04-28T21:19:21.446Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

If the question is "Should Wednesday, while not exactly choosing to believe religion, avoid thinking about it too hard because she thinks doing so will make her an atheist?," then she's already an atheist on some level because she thinks knowing more will make her more atheist, which implies atheism is true. This reduces to the case of deception, which you seem to be against unconditionally.

That's not necessarily true. Perhaps she believes Mormonism is almost certainly right, but acknowledges that she's not fully rational and might be misled if she read too many arguments against it. Most Christians believe in the idea that God (or Satan) tempts people to sin, and that avoiding temptation is a useful tactic to avoid sin. Kind of like avoiding stores where candy is on display if you're trying to lose weight, say. You know what's right in advance, but you're afraid of losing resolve.

Certainly whatever your beliefs, some people who disagree with you are sufficiently charismatic and good at rhetoric that they might persuade you if you give them the chance. (Well, for most of us, anyway.) How many atheist Less Wrongers would be able to withstand lengthy debate with very talented missionaries? Some, certainly. Most, probably. All? I doubt it.

Overall, though, an excellent response, and I agree with almost all the rest of it.

comment by [deleted] · 2010-05-05T17:33:27.424Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I used to think this way. "I won't read Mein Kampf because I might turn out a Nazi." This is actually a very insidiously bad mindset. You should believe any argument that can convince you (in fair conditions -- reading Mein Kampf in a calm frame of mind in your own living room, as opposed to under conditions of intimidation in Nazi Germany.) If Nazism is awful, it will still be awful even when you know more about it. And, indeed, most of us don't turn into neo-Nazis when we read Mein Kampf.

Sure, we have bounded rationality. But I don't see how, in probabilistic terms, you can be more likely to get it right without accumulating more evidence. (Maybe your priors are wrong.) If you really think you couldn't stand up to debate with a talented missionary, maybe you aren't really an atheist; maybe you should be glad to change your mind.

Psychologically, I think it's much better for people to trust their reason in this way. It makes it possible to live with more courage. I don't want to live with my head down hoping I won't be exposed to the wrong things.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-04-27T19:15:55.500Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

If the question is "What kind of person would name their daughter Wednesday?", I have no good answer. Maybe someone who really, really liked the Thursday Next books?

Actually, they got the name from Wednesday Addams. If the kid doesn't like the name they will call her Wendy instead. (They want two girls and a boy: Wednesday, Christabel, and Nicodemus.)

comment by wallowinmaya · 2011-06-06T21:29:11.651Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

If the question is "Should I, as an outside observer, do my best to convince Wednesday religion is wrong?" the answer depends on your moral system. I'm a utilitarian, so I would say no - I think it's a background assumption here that she's happier being deceived.

( I hope it's ok to respond to such an old comment...)

Um, but IMO most humans will be happier if they become atheists ( eventually). AND, what is far more important, with every new atheist the Sanity Waterline will raise which in turn increases the likelihood of surviving existential risks. And that should be ( or at least close to) the primary concern of every utilitarian. There are many more reasons I can think of, but these should suffice;) Or do I miss something?

comment by Bugmaster · 2012-04-25T01:04:18.134Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I know your comment is quite old, but I just wanted to say that this was my favorite comment on LW so far.

comment by byrnema · 2009-04-28T18:06:47.261Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If the question is "Is it okay for Wednesday to be religious?" the question is confused in the first place and any answer would be equally confused.

However, isn't this the question we want to know the answer to? Will rationalism not answer it, nor even allow us to ask it?

comment by Roko · 2009-05-01T07:47:02.766Z · score: -3 (9 votes) · LW · GW

If they want to come here and talk about prisoners dilemmas or the Singularity or something, then of course we should welcome their opinions.

also disagreeing here. I don't value a religious person's arguments relating to the singularity at all, and whilst I think we should tolerate them in the interest of free speech, this should be done grudgingly and with disclaimers like "this person cannot have a sensible view on the singularity, treat their output on the subject as noise".

This is because, if you are religious (in the theistic sense, which is really what we're likely to encounter and what I'm talking about), you believe that there is a divine agent watching over us. This has obvious false implications concerning the singularity.

Suppose you tell a theist that there's a serious risk that smarter than human AI could wipe out the whole human race. They'll be thinking "this couldn't happen, God would prevent it" or "oh, it's ok, I'll go to heaven if this happens". Wherever the argument goes next, you are talking to someone who has such radically different background assumptions to you that you won't get anything useful out of them.

Why is this differs from most other subjects is that the religious conception of divine intervention is tailored so that it is consistent with our everyday observations. Thus any religious person who is vaguely sane will have some argument as to why God doesn't prevent earthquakes from killing random people. So God allows small injustices and crimes, but the main point is that everything will be OK in the end, i.e. the ultimate fate of our world is not in question. The debate concerning the Singularity is directly about this question.

There are other failure modes which theists will have disproportionately over atheists, of course. To me it seems that an unerring and (essentially) non-evidence based belief that everything will turn out OK is indictment enough.

Amongst the other failure modes: belief in existence of souls and of the divine place of human intelligence is likely to produce skewed beliefs about the possibility of synthetic intelligence. Various results of dark-side epistemology such as disbelief of evolution, belief in "free will", belief in original sin and belief in moral realism ("god given morality") preventing something like CEV. I've heard the following fallacious argument against the transhumanist project from a lot of theists: humans are imperfect, so the only way to improve ourselves is to take advice from a perfect being. Imperfection cannot lead to less-imperfection.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2009-05-01T10:20:28.228Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Treat everyone's opinions as noise, unless you are about to make a decision. Consider each argument on its own merits, not as data, but as a metaphorical construction that allows you to recognize a way to move forward your own understanding of the facts you already know.

comment by AlexU · 2009-05-01T16:25:33.646Z · score: 1 (7 votes) · LW · GW

You've never heard of the ad hominem fallacy, I take it?

comment by Roko · 2009-05-01T16:50:17.763Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The fact that a believer in a loving and all powerful god can't really be taken seriously on the singularity is not a claim about their character, and thus doesn't qualify as ad-hominem. It is a claim about the arguments they are going to put forward: in the presence of the background assumption that there's a loving god watching over us, you can't make sensible decisions about the singularity.

comment by AlexU · 2009-05-01T18:36:01.436Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Discounting an argument because of the person making it is pretty much the textbook definition of ad hominem fallacy.

Also, it should go without saying that being a theist doesn't automatically mean one believes in a loving and all-powerful god watching over us. And anyway, I still don't follow the logic that being a theist means one can't make sensible decisions about the Singularity (insofar as one can say there are "sensible decisions" to be made about something that's basically a sci-fi construct at this point.)

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2009-05-01T16:59:56.900Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What distinguishes the topic of singularity from any other pursuits in which theists are empirically known to be able to excel? In each case, knowing that a person is a theist somewhat decreases your confidence in the accuracy of their judgment, but not dramatically. Is there something specific that places this topic in different light? (I think there is, but I don't feel like spinning a lengthy argument right now, and I'm curious about how thought-through that harshly-downvoted sentiment above was.)

comment by Roko · 2009-05-01T17:16:51.489Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If you are religious (in the theistic sense, which is really what we're likely to encounter and what I'm talking about), you believe that there is a divine agent watching over us. This has obvious false implications concerning the singularity.

Suppose you tell a theist that there's a serious risk that smarter than human AI could wipe out the whole human race.They'll be thinking "this couldn't happen, God would prevent it" or "oh, it's ok, I'll go to heaven if this happens". Wherever the argument goes next, you are talking to someone who has such radically different background assumptions to you that you won't get anything useful out of them.

Why is this differs from most other subjects is that the religious conception of divine intervention is tailored so that it is consistent with our everyday observations. Thus any religious person who is vaguely sane will have some argument as to why God doesn't prevent earthquakes from killing random people. So God allows small injustices and crimes, but the main point is that everything will be OK in the end, i.e. the ultimate fate of our world is not in question.

The debate concerning the Singularity is directly about this question.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2009-05-01T17:35:51.453Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't believe this is a valid thought in this form, or maybe you failed to formalize your intuition enough to communicate it. You list a few specific failure modes, which I don't believe can cover enough of the theistic people to reduce the probability of a theistic person producing valid singularity thinking down to nothingness. Also, some of these failure modes overlap with related failure modes of non-theistic people, thus not figuring into the likelihood ratio as much as they would otherwise.

comment by Roko · 2009-05-01T17:39:45.451Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

There are other failure modes which theists will have disproportionately over atheists, of course. To me it seems that an unerring and (essentially) non-evidence based belief that everything will turn out OK is indictment enough.

Amongst the other failure modes: belief in existence of souls and of the divine place of human intelligence is likely to produce skewed beliefs about the possibility of synthetic intelligence. Various results of dark-side epistemology such as disbelief of evolution, belief in "free will", belief in original sin and belief in moral realism ("god given morality") preventing something like CEV. I've heard the following fallacious argument against the transhumanist project from a lot of theists: humans are imperfect, so the only way to improve ourselves is to take advice from a perfect being. Imperfection cannot lead to less-imperfection.

Also, I didn't claim that the average atheist has sensible opinions about the subject. Just that "theist" is a useful filter.

comment by AlexU · 2009-05-01T18:39:46.320Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Your conception of "theism" -- a tremendously broad concept -- is laughably caricatured and narrow, and it pollutes whatever argument you're trying to make: absolutely none of the logic in the above post follows in the way you think it does.

comment by Roko · 2009-05-01T07:43:39.934Z · score: -5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

"Can Wednesday be religious and still be a smart person who's good at using rationality?", the answer is empirically yes (eg Robert Aumann).

Disagree here. If Aumann really is religious, and isn't just pretending to be, then he doesn't qualify as "smart" in my book. I would classify him more as "mad scientist with mental health issues"

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2009-05-01T12:38:58.268Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

Fine. Taboo "smart" and say "Could Wednesday be the sort of person who could win a Nobel Prize in science and make great advances in rationality?" In that case, the answer is empirically yes.

Your definition of "smart" seems to be "is an atheist". Since that's not the way most people would use it, and defining it that way serves an agenda by implying that non-atheists can't make great scientific contributions when you translate it into the definition everyone else does, I would change your definition unless you want to confuse people.

comment by byrnema · 2009-05-01T17:23:00.794Z · score: 2 (10 votes) · LW · GW

What I find remarkable about this discussion is that even though it is among rationalists, the claim is being made and defended that theists are less rational without appealing to evidence. Instead, atheists seem to speculate that theists must be less rational.

However you define rational, what is some evidence that theists are less that than atheists are?

comment by SoullessAutomaton · 2009-05-01T17:30:34.515Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

It is generally agreed upon by most people here that theism, as a belief about the objective nature of reality, is less rational than atheism for all sorts of reasons that shouldn't really need rehashing.

The jump from that point of consensus to theists being intrinsically less rational than atheists is to my eye wholly unsupported. Someone whose one and only rational belief is that there are no supernatural entities is, on the whole, not very rational at all.

comment by byrnema · 2009-05-01T17:45:18.394Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

What is the rational significance (significance in the context of rationality) of a belief being rational or irrational if it has no correlation with rational or irrational outcomes?

[I qualify here that I am referring to some kind of theism which is consistent with, though not supported by, all empirical evidence.]

comment by SoullessAutomaton · 2009-05-01T18:28:39.398Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What is the rational significance (significance in the context of rationality) of a belief being rational or irrational if it has no correlation with rational or irrational outcomes? [I really should qualify here that I am referring to some kind of theism which is consistent with, though not supported by, all empirical evidence.]

I'm not sure what you mean by rational or irrational outcomes; there are only outcomes that a belief predicts. If a belief predicts results identical to its own negation (that is, does not correlate with results at all), it is useless and can be safely culled by Occam's Razor.

Also, the only theistic hypotheses thus far that have not produced poorer results than some non-theistic hypothesis are ones positing supernatural entities that either do not interact measurably with the universe or do so only in ways indistinguishable from random chance, neither of which is a particularly common idea among actual theists, so it's something of a distraction to limit ourselves only to theistic beliefs that are not reflective of a typical theist.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-04-25T00:52:05.845Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If a belief predicts results identical to its own negation (that is, does not correlate with results at all), it is useless and can be safely culled by Occam's Razor.

I believe that of the last 100 people I've friended on Facebook, at least one was conceived with a sperm cell originating from their father's left testicle and at least one was conceived with a sperm cell originating from their father's right testicle.

This belief does not correlate with results, and I agree it's useless, but I don't think it “can be safely culled by Occam's Razor”.

comment by byrnema · 2009-05-01T19:20:00.010Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

so it's something of a distraction to limit ourselves only to theistic beliefs that are not reflective of a typical theist.

But in the interest of truth?

comment by byrnema · 2009-05-01T19:22:39.463Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

so it's something of a distraction to limit ourselves only to theistic beliefs that are not reflective of a typical theist.

When you defend an assertion X=Y, you must defend it for the most difficult case. I have no objections to the claim that most religious views are irrational.

comment by SoullessAutomaton · 2009-05-01T19:26:30.612Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

When you defend an assertion X=Y, you must defend it for the difficult case. I have no objections to the claim that some religious views are irrational.

And I said above why even so the views would be irrational. Do you disagree that it is not rational to hold beliefs with no predictive power?

comment by byrnema · 2009-05-01T19:48:18.135Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Do you disagree that it is not rational to hold beliefs with no predictive power?

Well, I did yesterday. What I mean is, I sat with that idea for a while and believed it the extent that it was convincing, but now I would like to challenge/test it more carefully.

So right now I am considering the hypothesis that it makes no difference to being rational if you hold certain beliefs, if they hold no predictive power.

I always feel uncomfortable with anything relying on Occam's Razor: Occam's Razor is meant to indicate the probability of something, it doesn't have the power to decide things one way or the other. (For example the probability of picking a number from an infinite set is 0 -- not close to 0, but actually 0 -- but that doesn't mean it would be impossible to pick a number from an infinite set if there was such a thing as an infinite set. I'm just not sure.)

What convinced me before, instead, was the argument that if there is no reason to believe something, then it is irrational to unnecessarily assume it. Now I am wondering if there could be any harm in doing so.

comment by Roko · 2009-05-01T17:36:41.432Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

what is some evidence that theists are less that than atheists are?

All the evidence that theism is false is also evidence that theists are irrational, given the assumption that rational people tend to believe true things rather than false things.

comment by byrnema · 2009-05-01T18:06:42.059Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Yes. With a small change in words, I convinced myself your logic is not circular:

Evidence supports: Atheism is true and theism is false. Therefore, atheism is a rational belief (based on evidence) and theism is an irrational belief (not based on evidence).

Given the assumption that rational people tend to hold rational beliefs rather than irrational ones...

Theism is evidence that a person is irrational.

The logic seems OK, but for some reason, I don't find that satisfying. I don't feel convinced in the way I usually do when something is true. Can anyone help me identify why? (will only be grateful if you identify an idiosyncratic irrationality)

Later: The reason why I don't find this satisfying, after thinking about it a while, is because I would like "true" to have more significance. I guess I don't care if something is true or not if it has no predictive consequence. And I think that that is a rational stance.

comment by GuySrinivasan · 2009-05-01T18:33:39.004Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It's because ("Theism is evidence that a person is irrational.") theism is evidence that is very easily screened off by other easily noted characteristics. Suppose for the sake of argument that given no other knowledge about a person than their label "theist" rather than "atheist" it is more likely they will be wrong about some other subject than if their label was "atheist".

Fine and dandy, but trace the flow of evidence through the causal diagram: "theist" is less likely given that "they're rational", so now it's more likely that "they're irrational". In particular, by irrational here I mean they have some set of cognitive algorithms not shared by all humans which makes them wrong about many subjects. This then directly propagates evidence that they will be wrong about some other specific subject. But it is screened off by evidence that these counterfactual cognitive algorithms do not in fact make them be wrong about that other specific subject. And that evidence is readily gathered by reading a post or two of theirs on the subject in question.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2009-05-01T18:42:13.301Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

You could've said it simpler:
Reading a couple of essays on the subject written by a person is more informative about whether the person is reasonable about that subject than learning whether the person is a theist.

comment by GuySrinivasan · 2009-05-01T19:39:10.444Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Well, that's true, but it misses the point that not only is the "reading essays" evidence more informative than the "theist" evidence, the former radically changes how you should update on the latter. If most of the probability flow from "theist" to "wrong about other subject" flows through the bit that "reading essays" makes improbable, then to make up arbitrary exaggerated numbers with the right qualitative behavior:

  • log(P(wrong|theist)/P(wrong|~theist)) = L(wrong|theist) = 0.1
  • L(wrong|reasonableessays) = -1.0
  • L(wrong|theist&reasonableessays) = -0.99 rather than -0.9.
comment by pjeby · 2009-05-01T21:51:27.520Z · score: 1 (9 votes) · LW · GW

given the assumption that rational people tend to believe true things rather than false things

I would say it's the above assumption is irrational, being as it goes quite against the evidence we have.

Everyone above a certain baseline level of mental functioning believes at least some irrational and/or false things.... including you. Some of the things you believe are at least as irrational as theism, and some subset of them have at least as much influence on your behavior as theism does on the average theist.

(By "you", I don't only mean Roko, but whoever is reading this comment. Unless of course "you" are Omega, in which case I might give you the benefit of the doubt. ;-) )

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2009-05-01T22:02:31.431Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Everyone above a certain baseline level of mental functioning believes at least some irrational and/or false things.... including you. Some of the things you believe are at least as irrational as theism, and some subset of them have at least as much influence on your behavior as theism does on the average theist.

This is useless blurring, Fallacy of Gray.

comment by pjeby · 2009-05-01T22:16:15.338Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

My point is that rationalism doesn't automatically grant a person the ability to extinguish every irrational idea they've ever had, nor to become instantly aware of all the beliefs they currently hold.

One must distinguish between ability to reason, and one's accomplishments in a given field of reasoning. Throwing off theism is an accomplishment, but the lack of that accomplishment doesn't automatically mean a lack of ability.

And I don't see how that relates to the Fallacy of Grey in any way, since my point was that people not only make different choices about which fields to apply their rationality to, but also that people have differing levels of awareness about what beliefs might need the application, entirely independent of their ability.

comment by Nick_Tarleton · 2009-05-01T22:23:30.470Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I think the relation to the Fallacy of Gray is that you used "rational people believe some false things" to refute "rational people TEND to believe true things". Still, IAWYC.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-05-25T06:25:39.850Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Instead, atheists seem to speculate that theists must be less rational.

The concept of all else equal/ceteris paribus might be useful here.

comment by byrnema · 2011-05-28T01:54:16.639Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

What do you mean?

comment by lessdazed · 2011-05-28T03:56:05.577Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

"...what is some evidence that theists are less [rational] than atheists are?" is an incomplete question.

(tl;dr By talking about theists as a group, we are organizing people around their belief in something false that they generally should not believe in that both causes and is correlated with more general irrationality. Other than the criteria we used to organize the group, we shouldn't expect to find many other universals, just significant patterns with exceptions.)

Are all theists less rational than all atheists are? Obviously not, under any important definition, for the same reason each person who eats 4000 calories and less than 50g protein daily is not less healthy than each person who eats fewer calories and more protein, and each person looking at a Japanese newspaper does not speak better Japanese than each person not looking at a Japanese newspaper speaks Japanese.

We can still say important things about the basis by which we organized people into these groups. They can have both direct causal effects and statistical significance from indirect links to other measurable things. For example, looking at a Japanese newspaper can cause one to get better at speaking Japanese, and looking at a Japanese newspaper is correlated with having Japanese relatives who help one learn Japanese.

Finally: all else equal, looking at a Japanese newspaper is better than nothing for learning Japanese, and it's also better than what most people are doing now for learning Japanese.

If we're organizing people into "theist" group and a second group made of everyone else, "theists are less [rational] than atheists are," represents some different notions that have different proper responses among them.

If the assertion is "being a theist is correlated with being irrational (and/or playing the banjo, etc.)," then that claim needs to defer to science and new evidence, as I think you are saying.

I say "defer to" because there is an appropriate confidence someone with my amount of evidence should have in the claim. I feel very comfortable claiming that the top contributors to lesswrong are almost certainly not also the top contributors to the magazine Seventeen, despite a dearth of scientific studies on the subject.

It may be worthwhile to discuss the amount of confidence someone with a certain amount of evidence should have in a specific claim. My first response to a claim like "People who believe the soul influences some human speech (or theists, or whoever) are, on average, as rational as those who believe speech is not influenced by a soul," or "The (first? I'm not sure what conspiracies are popular) moon landing was faked," is to ask about what evidence the claimant currently possesses and how they process it. This is often more important than determining the truth of the original claim, which often will be best determined by gathering new evidence. In such a case, what's really being discussed is not the truth of the original proposition, but the reasonableness of the original statement, so no evidence on its truth is relevant.

If the assertion is "being a theist causes irrationality," truths are entangled. That's not a dogma I cling to, and each individual has other influences in his or her life that may make them an exception, but I'd like to hear some kind of response to those arguments or I won't feel obliged to go looking for evidence (unless something important hinges on my being right).

This depends on theism being irrational, which I think it is for most people - not having conducted studies, of course. For many people, theism is rational, particularly the very young, who should notice a pattern forming in which their parents are eventually right about things the child does not understand because they are too complex.

This does not depend on acts (such as thoughts) designed to induce a belief in theism being irrational.

If the assertion is "all else equal, a person with a given set of beliefs is more rational without the additional belief of theism," then yes, on average...if we have organized all human minds by their belief in a proposition that most should think false, then those who are inappropriately theist are many, those who are inappropriately atheist are few, those who are appropriately theist are few, those who are appropriately atheist are comparatively many.

If the assertion is "based on the knowledge held by the reader of this sentence, he or she is almost certainly being irrational if he or she is theistic," that is true with a good deal of help from selection bias, but one could say a similar thing about American adults.

comment by Roko · 2009-05-01T15:49:27.778Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

"Could Wednesday be the sort of person who could win a Nobel Prize in science and make great advances in rationality?" In that case, the answer is empirically yes.

we should note that most scientists are atheists, so making Wednesday a devoutly deluded believer would quite possibly decrease the probability of her achieving these great things.

Of course, I should add that I think it is unlikely that Wednesday would benefit by being an atheist. She is probably not going to be naturally intelligent enough to attain a Nobel prize anyway. I must admit, in terms of living the good life, religion wins over atheism at the moment.

comment by byrnema · 2009-05-01T17:12:04.612Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

most scientists are atheists

Not true.

Nevertheless, the following still supports the statement that Wednesday is less likely to be a scientist, given that she is religious:

"With little doubt, scientists at major research universities are less religious—at least according to traditional forms of religion—than members of the general public." (same source)

comment by Roko · 2009-05-01T15:46:40.433Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

No, classifying Aumann as smart doesn't adequately capture my intuition as to what the word "smart" means. Suppose, for example, that Grigori Perelman literally believed in the existence of the flying spaghetti monster, and believed that drinking a mixture of his own urine and rats blood every morning would allow him to fly through space. Well, Perelman can certainly own your ass at algebraic topology and differential geometry, but I don't quite think that you'd be prepared to call him smart if he held the beliefs I described above. Perhaps "seriously good at some specialized subject but overall quite messed up" would capture your intuition. What do others think? Am I misusing the word "smart"?

The Aumann situation seems analogous to me. Indeed, the fact that Aumann supposedly studies rationality, yet still cannot see that religion is false makes me worry about his sanity even more than I would worry about the sanity of the fictional Perelman above.

My definition of "smart" is not equivalent to "is an atheist", but in the background of the overwhelming evidence available to someone like Aumann, I would list atheism as a necessary condition.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-05-01T16:09:07.714Z · score: 6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Roko, do you think someone who is raised a theist but has all of your other necessary and (otherwise) jointly sufficient conditions for smartness, and then deconverts, becomes smart in that moment?

comment by Roko · 2009-05-01T17:05:49.219Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If we model the human mind as a consistent logical system with empirical input from reality, this is impossible. Why? Well, the religious claim is incompatible with our observations - wildly so.

For example, I'd list conditions for smartness as: a good grasp of logical thinking, avoidance of fallacies and contradications, ability to make plans, incorporate what you see around you into your worldview, spot when someone is pulling some trick of sophistry on you (i.e. not be easily fooled), understand what you want out of life and go about getting it in a sensible manner, etc.

A person with all these qualities cannot look at the world we see around us, be exposed to evolutionary theory, modern science (including cognitive science), the history of religion, etc and believe in a loving God.

What tends to happen, I think, is that someone picks up almost all of the above traits with the exception of the "a good grasp of logical thinking, avoidance of fallacies and contradictions" bit. Then something pushes them a little bit on the "clear, logical thinking" axis, and they deconvert.

comment by Cyan · 2009-05-01T17:42:06.883Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Now that Roko's actually explained Roko::smart, we don't need to keep arguing about what counts as "smart" vs. Roko::smart. It's enough to note that when Roko uses the term, the above nonstandard definition is what is meant. Let's not argue over semantics if we don't have to.

comment by Roko · 2009-05-01T17:47:25.489Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

So it is kind of important that I use words in a standard way. I'll stop saying "smart" and just use "narrowly-clever" and "rational"

comment by Cyan · 2009-05-01T17:48:49.418Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'd say that's an eminently rational policy.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-05-01T17:16:54.581Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It would seem to follow from this that you don't think the following people can be "smart":

  • children
  • people who have not been educated on the subjects you mention
  • people who are good at partitioning, possibly because of a considered belief in fideism
  • people who have conflicting desires and have not worked out which they prefer to endorse on a second-order level
  • people who self-deceive on some level, or avoid thinking about the subject of religion very hard, in order to achieve a good quality of life, after having established that they consider the quality of life their top priority

Am I reading you incorrectly?

comment by Roko · 2009-05-01T17:25:25.134Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

children

As for children, we tend to judge them in relation to other children. A child can be relatively smart, but not smart. For example, if you want to insult the intelligence of an adult, you say that they display "child-like naivety".

people who have not been educated on the subjects you mention

Typically one picks these things up. Very few people have actually been educated in "not being easily fooled", for example.

possibly because of a considered belief in fideism

Wikipedia: "Fideism is an epistemological theory which maintains that faith is independent of reason, or that reason and faith are hostile to each other and faith is superior at arriving at particular truths"

If you think that blindly believing something is a good way to get to the truth, then in my book you are an idiot. "Not smart" isn't even strong enough.

people who self-deceive on some level, or avoid thinking about the subject of religion very hard, in order to achieve a good quality of life, after having established that they consider the quality of life their top priority

This is a good one. But if you realize that you're deceiving yourself, but not that this weakens your belief in the thing you are deceiving yourself about, then you must be pretty slow, really?! Sure, it's great if you can get this to work, but if you can get it to work then you have to be a bit dumb.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-05-01T17:30:01.009Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

When I am inclined to call someone childish, it's because I want to express an opinion about their maturity, not their intelligence. Smart people can be immature and mature people can be pretty dim.

Some people really seem to be able to self-deceive without obviously weakening the belief they're deceiving themselves about. It's not a skill I have, but I shouldn't assume that no one has it. I don't think it's obvious at all that these people are necessarily dumb.

comment by Roko · 2009-05-01T17:34:27.613Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Well it depends what you mean by "dumb".

Strongly believing X, whilst at the same time believing that you are deceiving yourself into believing X and ignoring the evidence, with the background assumption that randomly formed beliefs are not likely to be true, is a logical contradiction.

comment by byrnema · 2009-05-02T11:39:19.315Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Well, the religious claim is incompatible with our observations - wildly so.

Roko, could you give more detail in your reasoning here? Is any religious claim incompatible with observations, or are you thinking of a specific one?

comment by byrnema · 2009-05-01T19:28:20.075Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Well, the religious claim is incompatible with our observations - wildly so.

This is false, wildly so. Or what do you mean by 'the religious claim'?

comment by Cyan · 2009-05-01T15:49:57.720Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Am I misusing the word "smart"?

Yup. In general usage, "smart" means "good at one or some mental tasks". (Your hypothetical example of Grigori Perelman is roughly analogous to the real example of Srinivasa Ramanujan.)

comment by steven0461 · 2009-05-01T16:09:39.144Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Isn't that why we have the smart/rational distinction? One way you might see it: smart = generates relevant logical information at a high rate, rational = processes this information in the right way so as to come to true beliefs. (This is vague but I hope you can see the intuition.) Aumann and hypothetical-Perelman both seem able to generate interesting pieces of reasoning better than almost all people, but seem to sometimes have trouble fully stitching together and accepting the implications of the interesting true ones when not disciplined by standards of mathematical proof.

comment by Roko · 2009-05-01T17:02:21.971Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'll agree to that, perhaps taboo'ing "smart" and replacing it with "clever". Smart has too many connotations of "rational" to me. It is generally accepted that you can be "very clever but not very smart"

comment by jastreich · 2010-05-05T15:08:26.513Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

You believe that it is impossible to hold a "wrong belief" and still be "smart"? Have you ever believed your car keys to be one place, when they were in another? Are there any issues that you have a known bias about, or are you claiming all your beliefs are 100% rational all time? Even when you change your mind?

If you accept the claim that theism is irrational or less rational then atheism, is it not still possible for Wednesday to be rational on most other subjects?

comment by Roko · 2010-05-05T17:23:52.267Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Forgetting where your car keys are is not really an example of irrationality.

comment by jastreich · 2010-05-06T14:03:24.619Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

But it is an example of a wrong belief. Which, if we assume that theism is a wrong belief, we must equate the two as both being false statements. If you don't like the car key example, simply substitute it for any other belief that you hold that has a high likely hood of being false; or do you claim you have none.

Further, You still ignore the fundamental argument, and stick on the example. If it not possible to have a blind spot in reason, but be reasonable in all (is anyone really reasonable in all instances? -- let's say many instead) other instances.

comment by AlexU · 2009-05-01T16:20:42.246Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

You do realize that on any list of historically significant "geniuses," the majority are going to be theists, right? I'm sure it must be nice to pat yourself on the back for being "smarter" than people like Goethe, Thomas Aquinas, and Kierkegaard, but that would seem to be a reductio ad absurdum against the use of theism as an automatic disqualifier for "smartness," to my mind.

comment by Roko · 2009-05-01T17:06:43.702Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

You do realize that on any list of historically significant "geniuses," the majority are going to be theists, right?

Irrelevant, they didn't have the evidence that we do today.

comment by AlexU · 2009-05-01T18:32:39.508Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

God's non-existence isn't predicated on any positive evidence for the proposition, but on lack of any evidence whatsoever, which was just as lacking in previous centuries as it is today.

Anyway, a list of Nobel Prize winners in the sciences is going have a substantial number of theists on it (probably a majority).

comment by pjeby · 2009-05-01T18:58:23.936Z · score: 2 (8 votes) · LW · GW

God's non-existence isn't predicated on any positive evidence for the proposition, but on lack of any evidence whatsoever, which was just as lacking in previous centuries as it is today.

FWIW, the thing that pushed me over into atheism vs. a vague agnostic "maybe there's something" point of view was my study of the human mind. Nothing debunks the idea of a loving creator better than examining just how f*ed up he built his "children". So for me at least, there was definitely positive evidence that wasn't available in previous centuries.

(Technically, that's not really rational, of course; lowering the probability of a creator deity really shouldn't have affected my probability of "maybe there's something". I suppose it's more that it confirmed for me the absence of the need for that "something" to exist, or at least the improbability of that "something" sharing human values in any relevant way.)

comment by CronoDAS · 2009-05-02T14:30:44.237Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

You know, before Darwin, the Argument from Design really was a good reason to accept some form of theism, although most versions of Christianity should still have been considered stupid. (To be blunt, the world looks more like it was designed by a group of assholes like the Greek gods than it would if it really was made by the single "loving God" of the New Testament.) People were only aware of one kind of optimization process - human intelligence - that was capable of creating complicated artifacts, so it was reasonable to believe that the optimized artifacts present in the natural world were also the product of an intelligent designer. Hence, the Deism of Thomas Jefferson and his contemporaries.

Then humans discovered the alien god and theism became much, much less rational.

comment by byrnema · 2009-05-02T18:25:07.656Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Consider the hypothesis that religions represent paradigms for our relationship with the universe. Obviously, science is the best description of how the universe actually is, but religion may be a heuristic that achieves averaged results. Sort of like non-epistemic rationality taken to an extreme. Within this hypothesis, I think that the "loving god" is a more mature understanding of the universe than Greek polytheism, just like “turn the other cheek” is a more sophisticated sense of social justice than “an eye for an eye”. While counter-intuitive, life experiences of a certain kind (not all, surely) point to these paradigms as being more true than the intuitive ones. Religion biases thinking, but also your worldview creates your religion, which is why some people change religions or deconvert.

comment by CronoDAS · 2009-05-02T20:59:20.003Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Consider the hypothesis that religions represent paradigms for our relationship with the universe.

I am confused by that sentence; I have no idea what that means.

Within this hypothesis, I think that the "loving god" is a more mature understanding of the universe than Greek polytheism, just like “turn the other cheek” is a more sophisticated sense of social justice than “an eye for an eye”.

I understand what "an eye for an eye" refers to (and, yes, "an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind" and all that), but I'm not sure how to interpret "turn the other cheek," because the first one that comes to mind seems, well, stupid. Not being willing to use force, or have others use force on your behalf, simply leaves you at the mercy of those that are. Pacifism is especially stupid when someone like Charles Whitman decides to start shooting people until someone kills him. It's absurd to "turn the other cheek" to the smallpox virus, or a hunting cougar that thinks you would make a good meal.

Gandhi got lucky that he was dealing with the British and not, say, the Mongols, who would just slaughter anyone who wouldn't pay tribute. Indeed, Jesus himself wasn't as fortunate - as everyone knows, the Romans had him crucified.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2009-04-27T18:42:43.398Z · score: 23 (29 votes) · LW · GW

I reject out of hand the idea that she should deconvert in the closet and systematically lie to everyone she knows.

I had to do this until I was able to sever myself from parental support at age 20. It certainly wasn't pleasant and sometimes I still have nightmares about being discovered breaking the Sabbath (though I've told my parents long since). But if you ask me whether I would have rather remained religious,

TEN THOUSAND TIMES NO!

Is it really essential that, as a community, we exclude or dismiss or reflexively criticize theists who are good at partitioning, who like and are good at rational reasoning in every other sphere - and who just have higher priorities than being right?

If Wednesday can partition, that puts an upper bound on her ability as a rationalist; it means she doesn't get on a deep level why the rules are what they are. She doesn't get, say, that the laws regarding evidence are not social customs that can be different from one place to another, but, rather, manifestations of the principle that you have to walk through a city in order to draw an accurate map of it. She can't understand the causality behind the rules, or she would simply know beyond all attempts at partitioning; she would no more be able to convince herself that faith works than convince herself that 2 + 2 = 3; it's a simple rule, and once you see it, it's obvious in one step.

In an absolute sense, God is no more plausible than Santa Claus or fairies. If you can believe in God, you can believe in anything. If Wednesday is amateur-level rational in other domains, then she may be able to contribute interesting comments to Less Wrong. But people, like chains, tend to break at their weakest link, not their strongest; and so being semi-rational in the domain of e.g. biochemistry may do her less good than you think.

comment by abigailgem · 2009-04-28T09:35:36.452Z · score: 12 (16 votes) · LW · GW

if you can believe in God, you can believe in anything.

The trouble with that is that I believe in some pretty weird things. I believe in a universe with a hundred billion galaxies, each of a hundred billion stars, of the Earth being a globe rushing round the sun when it appears to be still, with the sun going round it. I believe these things not because I have worked them out for myself, but because I understand that Academe believes them, more or less, and people with whom I associate believe them.

comment by AlexU · 2009-04-29T15:14:55.131Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Right. The idea that we as individuals arrive at our scientific beliefs via perfect rationality is a fiction. It's good to keep in mind that our scientific beliefs are a product of a particular social network -- we believe things largely because people and institutions we trust believe those things. The difference between being a Mormon and being a scientific materialist is less a qualitative difference (i.e., one person is rational, the other is not) than one of degree, circumstance, and where you place your faith.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2009-04-29T15:26:14.834Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The historical causes of the different kinds of worldviews held by different people may be similar, but it doesn't make the different worldviews themselves similar. The evolution was implemented on the same kind of physics that fires up the stars, yet a snail is nothing like a giant ball of plasma. The answer to "2+2=" doesn't depend on where you place your faith. Even if you zealously believe that the answer is 78, even if that's what you were taught in school, just like the other kids who were taught different answers, the answer is still 4.

And there is a rational reason to believe the global scientific community, once you grow strong enough to pose the question: they are often right, and they self-check their correctness.

comment by AlexU · 2009-04-29T15:43:28.536Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Of course, different worldviews may be qualitatively very different, but the point I'm making is that our personal reasons for adopting one over the other aren't all that different. My reasons for believing various scientific findings have much more to do with the sociology of my upbringing and current environment than with the actual truth or falsity of those findings. I did some lab experiments in high school and college, but to extrapolate from those personal verifications to the truth of all scientific findings is to make quite an inductive leap.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2009-04-29T15:53:43.535Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

When you are still weak enough to be shaped into a zealot by any community, independently of their goodness, of course you don't make that choice, by definition. You may well remain unable to make that choice, if this ability is taken away from you by the worldview you were fed with. But rocks don't have that power either.

So, there are two questions on the table: whether there is objective difference, relative to your implicit own goals, between different worldviews instilled in you by the environment of your upbringing, and whether the people are capable of noticing that difference and acting on it.

On the presence of objective difference, I wrote in the comment to which you replied, and you seem to agree. Whether you ever grow strong enough to consider the decision to change your worldview currently significantly depends on your initial worldview, and on your native intelligence. With native intelligence a given, we can only improve this situation by spreading empowering memes.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-04-27T19:29:21.070Z · score: 2 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I reject out of hand the idea that she should deconvert in the closet and systematically lie to everyone she knows.

I had to do this until I was able to sever myself from parental support at age 20. It certainly wasn't pleasant and sometimes I still have nightmares about being discovered breaking the Sabbath (though I've told my parents long since). But if you ask me whether I would have rather remained religious, TEN THOUSAND TIMES NO!

I don't know your parents, but I know the people who will be Wednesday's. Nothing terrible will happen to Wednesday if she deconverts: she would make her parents a little sad, and they would probably try to argue her around, but they would not do her harm or kick her out of the house or otherwise mistreat her in any way, shape, or form. I do not object to deception in self-defense (or defense of others in Jews-in-the-attic-in-Nazi-Germany situations), but Wednesday will not require deceptive self-defense.

comment by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Eliezer_Yudkowsky) · 2009-04-27T19:51:13.317Z · score: 13 (15 votes) · LW · GW

Isn't this an argument in favor of her becoming an atheist, if the side effects to her are less than to me?

comment by Alicorn · 2009-04-27T19:52:33.701Z · score: 10 (14 votes) · LW · GW

Just because she'd incur a lesser cost doesn't mean she has to value the end enough to tolerate even that lesser cost.

comment by jscn · 2009-04-28T23:08:10.643Z · score: 1 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Nothing terrible will happen to Wednesday if she deconverts

The terrible thing has already happened at this stage. Telling your children that lies are true (i.e., that Mormonism is true), when they have no better way of discerning the truth than simply believing what you say, is abusive and anti-moralistic. It is fundamentally destructive of a person's ability to cope with reality.

I have never heard a story of deconversion that was painless. Everyone I know who has deconverted from a religious upbringing has undergone large amounts of internal (and often external) anguish. Even after deconverting most have not been capable of severing ties to the destructive people who doomed them to this pain in the first place.

comment by MendelSchmiedekamp · 2009-04-27T19:48:15.387Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

There are rationally beneficial forms of partitioning using that same skill - such as the application of estimated beliefs in appropriate contexts. That suggests that partitioning is not anathema to rationality.

To my mind what is much more problematic is giving a free pass to particularly enshrined beliefs may have a contagion effect on other beliefs preventing you from properly evaluating them. In which case our partitioned theist may even have an advantage. At least Wednesday knows for sure some of her irrational beliefs. How many of us can say the same?

comment by badger · 2009-04-27T21:14:07.781Z · score: 21 (21 votes) · LW · GW

As an ex-Mormon, I had to personally confront this issue. My family, extended family, friends, neighbors, and the large majority of my hometown are Mormon, so the social costs of leaving my church were extremely high. While in high school, I was primarily in the closet, but I'd express the occasional doubt. Just the suggestion that the church could be tested against evidence resulted in people avoiding conversation with me, my now-wife being warned by mutual friends not to date me, and my parents sternly lecturing me. Note this was merely because I considered the possibility of contrary evidence, not a public expression of disbelief.

In the counterfactual world where I chose not to explore the veracity of religion, my high school years would have been significantly happier, I would have avoided prolonged conflict with my family, I would have served a two-year religious mission, and I would likely be attending BYU right now. In some ways, it does genuinely feel like this would have been better, but I can say with confidence that I made the right choice.

I could easily pick out reasons why someone shouldn't remain Mormon specifically, but I want to engage the least convenient world for why we shouldn't knowingly believe something false. Being a theist might not affect the quality of someone's everyday life much, so there is not an apparent gain from a belief in the truth. But similarly, beliefs about the moon landing, Santa, evolution, heliocentricism, etc rarely influence someone's everyday life. The problem is that once you allow exceptions to seeking evidence, allowing your beliefs to be influenced by evidence, and not starting with a bottom line, the exceptions start bleeding over into beliefs that do affect success. I don't think this slippery slope is inevitable, but if you want to win, you can't trust partitions*.

I absolutely agree that if Wednesday came to our community interested and enthusiastic, we should welcome her with open arms. Nevertheless, I would encourage her to break down any mental partitions she might have, otherwise simply note that theism is not up for discussion in the context of this site.

* This is particularly true of Mormon culture where "I prayed about it, and felt the Spirit tell me it is right" can trump any other argument.

comment by MrHen · 2009-04-28T01:39:41.549Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Note this was merely because I considered the possibility of contrary evidence, not a public expression of disbelief.

Not to be a total jerk and imply you are a total jerk, but the way you merely consider the possibility of contrary evidence matters a lot. I simply want to point out that there is no chance in the world of accurately describing what you or someone like Wednesday would go through in a sentence and there is always an easy option to tilt the histories in your favor. Someone's perceptions of their own attitudes is difficult enough without trying to remember what your emotional state at age 14. I can hear someone say, "I was only asking questions," and know that the words are true but are a complete lie at the same time. Linguistics is easy to twist into your favor.

Again, I am not implying you match any of these descriptions. I just saw an old pattern and felt like pointing it out (at the risk of focusing on the minutiae of your comment).

comment by badger · 2009-04-28T01:59:22.152Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I agree that is a common failure mode, and I could be misremembering. I made that statement because I did know a handful of people who would belligerently "question" people about religion, and I am pretty sure I was not one of them. I only spoke to intimate friends about my thoughts, and even then, it was done rarely and with extreme hesitancy. It is the sort of thing that spreads through gossip though, while could also explain some of the negative responses.

With my parents, around age 17, I started to outright refuse to attend church, but the troubles started before then. I got a stern lecture from my mom about age 15 for making a statement that assumed evolution was true.

Thanks for alerting me to the potential problem, but I will respectfully claim it doesn't apply.

comment by MrHen · 2009-04-28T02:20:07.185Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Thanks for alerting me to the potential problem, but I will respectfully claim it doesn't apply.

Which works for me. I am glad you are willing to accept the question.

comment by jhuffman · 2009-04-27T17:39:58.634Z · score: 17 (17 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure why you are so dismissive of your first footnote. The question of being adopted is a testable hypothesis. Whether you actually test it or not, you do not need to rely on your trust of your parents to know the truth here. Since the claim that you are not adopted is not particularly extraordinary there is little reason to actually go and test it. Also, knowing the truth here one or way or the other probably would change very little about how you live your day-to-day life.

Religious claims are extraordinary and if true would have a profound impact on how you should live your day-to-day life. Many "religious believers" are in fact so good at partitioning that this is not the case - they do not live as though their beliefs are true.

Yes, I will make value judgments concerning the merits and characters of both those people and people who "apply reason" in an irrationally discriminatory matter.

comment by LongInTheTooth · 2009-04-29T13:32:01.184Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, this is the crux of the difference between the two scenarios. We accept many things from authority figures at face value, but they fall into two categories, testable and untestable, and we can easily figure out which is which.

comment by AlexU · 2009-04-29T15:34:22.581Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not sure those categories are as meaningful as you think. How many scientific findings are you capable of verifying personally, right now? And believing you're capable of verifying them, "in principle," is quite different altogether...

comment by AlexU · 2009-04-27T21:33:12.226Z · score: 14 (14 votes) · LW · GW

This is a great post because it shows just how hard one has to stretch the meaning of "win" to find a way in which atheism always "wins." In the example, it seems that Wedesday "wins" by remaining a Mormon, unless she just happens to place some kind of high personal value on metaphysical truth that can only be satisfied by holding the epistemically correct belief. There's no reason why that should be for everyone, though -- there's a pretty strong case both for not caring at all about these questions, as well accepting one's "default" view if it's too costly to shed. Say Wednesday never becomes a philosopher, but instead, goes into business, or becomes a journalist, or a doctor. It's difficult to imagine how the "less wrong" position of atheism would help her "win" in any of these endeavors, and, in all likelihood, the practical costs incurred by deconverting would swamp any marginal gains she'd get from changing her metaphysical stance on God.

I think people on LW are very hesitant to admit that their strong attachment to "true" metaphysical beliefs may have nothing to do with "winning," but rather, could just be an idiosyncratic personal preference (which is perfectly OK).

comment by MBlume · 2009-04-27T21:40:22.775Z · score: 7 (13 votes) · LW · GW

Personally I would consider the debilitating sexist and sex-negative messages packaged with Mormonism to be a profound sort of losing in and of themselves, but that's beyond the scope of this blog.

comment by badger · 2009-04-27T21:56:28.146Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I agree that there is no reason atheists always "win". Maybe becoming a theist while holding all other beliefs constant will be an improvement, but I don't think this is a practical analysis. Ceteris paribus, Wednesday should stay Mormon, but the cognitive algorithms would make her stay Mormon are very likely to have detrimental effects on net.

comment by HCE · 2009-04-28T06:28:17.950Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

human beings are capable of having domain and context-specific cognitive algorithms. preferring comforting but false metaphysical truths does not mean she will prefer (more than others) reassuring but maladaptive beliefs about her local environment. her incentives to believe in some fanciful anthropomorphized abstraction are of an entirely different type than her incentives to believe true or false things about the intentions and motives of those she will interact with professionally, say.

are theists more or less likely to demonstrate competence on card-selection tasks or other tests of rational belief formation?

comment by badger · 2009-04-28T07:06:06.384Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I agree people are capable of partitioning. Theists likely do the same as atheists in emotionally disconnected circumstances like a card-selection task. But this doesn't establish Wednesday is better off as a theist than as an atheist overall. And at least in the Mormon case, where decisions can be fully justified by "I felt good about it, ergo God endorses it", I am willing to claim that theists are less likely to engage in something even as basic as cost-benefit analysis.

comment by HCE · 2009-04-28T08:15:06.052Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

i did not say it established she was better off as a theist than as an atheist. i was merely pointing out that being a theist does not make anyone more or less likely (as far as i know) to believe things which are false about their local environment (beyond those things which necessarily follow from their beliefs, e.g., this priest sure is wise in the ways of the Lord! he must be wise about other things, too!).

do we have any data suggesting atheists hold more accurate beliefs than theists about phenomena that they experience firsthand?

comment by AlexU · 2009-04-28T21:24:19.347Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Pretty doubtful, especially controlling for IQ and education...

comment by mattnewport · 2009-04-27T17:46:16.211Z · score: 11 (11 votes) · LW · GW

What would have to happen to her to get her to give up those beliefs? Well, for starters, she'd have to dramatically change her opinion of her family.

I don't really buy this line of your argument. I disagree with my parents about quite a number of issues, religion and politics included. I also in retrospect disagree with some of their choices about how to bring me up (school choice etc.). At no point did I have to dramatically change my opinion of them. I didn't have to stop thinking they had my best interests at heart, or stop thinking they were intelligent and educated people. Part of the process of growing up and being exposed to the wider world is the realization that people disagree on all kinds of issues and that you can't rely on any single authority as a source of truth. People can be wrong without being liars, stupid or ill-informed (by comparison to the general population).

comment by smoofra · 2009-04-28T18:19:13.047Z · score: 10 (12 votes) · LW · GW

Is it really essential that, as a community, we exclude or dismiss or reflexively criticize theists....

I don't think we should exclude them. But that doesn't mean we can't confidently inform them when we know they're wrong.

My favorite rationalist quote ever is "I don't have to agree with you to like or respect you" (Anthony Bourdain). Just because we know theists are wrong doesn't mean we have to be jerks about it. If Newton could make that mistake, anyone can, and we all know how hard it is to climb out of those sorts epistemic holes once you've found yourself in one.

But we shouldn't confuse "not being jerks" with "pretending not to know things that we do in fact know, so that people don't think we're jerks"

comment by byrnema · 2009-04-28T18:36:15.029Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

we all know how hard it is to climb out of those sorts epistemic holes once you've found yourself in one.

What is the relationship between being a good rationalist and having above average or exceptional intelligence? Is climbing out an epistemic hole something anyone can do?

It's not an idle question: it has an immediate consequence of whether or not we can fault Wednesday for being religious. Would it be an ethical failing, a failing of innate talent, or something else?

comment by smoofra · 2009-04-28T20:05:36.644Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Innate talent helps, good teachers help, good parents help, good books help.

But luck helps more I think.

Most people only get one chance to get it right, if they're lucky. Wednesday probably won't even get that.

comment by jastreich · 2010-05-05T14:55:50.682Z · score: -4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

"[N]ot to know things that we do in fact know," and "Confidently inform them when we know they're wrong." Except, as a rationalist, you can't say that you know there is no god. You may be able to say that you believe it to be unlikely that there is a god, or that you have seen no evidence that would make you believe that there is a god. The fact is that it is (near) impossible to prove a negative. Likewise, you cannot say that you know there is are no purple polar bear, fairies, unicorns or black swans. The burden of proof does always fall to the affirmative, but you can't rationally and conclusively prove the negative.

comment by arundelo · 2010-05-05T15:16:51.594Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Using "know" to mean "have exactly 100% certainty" means you can't prove a positive either. (I don't "know" that the computer in front of me exists, but the probability that it is an illusion or trick is low enough for me to ignore.)

LessWrong wiki entry on absolute certainty

comment by smoofra · 2010-05-13T20:35:56.539Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

What do you think you're adding to the discussion by trotting out this sort of pedantic literalism?

Unless someone explicitly says they know something with absolute 100% mathematical certainty, why don't you just use your common sense and figure that when they say they "know" something, they mean they assign it a very high probability, and believe they have epistemologically sound reasons for doing so.

comment by thomblake · 2010-05-05T16:49:08.764Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You're using a definition of "know" that practically nobody would endorse (assuming they also accepted your other premises). Once you have certainties expressed properly as probabilities, a contextualist epistemology falls out naturally. (though there are other nuanced views that would work)

comment by [deleted] · 2010-05-05T17:23:46.863Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Should you be Wednesday's "atheist auntie?" I would say yes.

You're asking, "What does she gain from being an atheist?" Well, there are several possibilities -- someone mentioned a happier sexuality -- but, in my opinion, what really matters is the end of the divided will. Sooner or later, most people find some tenet of their religion that they disagree with, or think is silly, or even horrible, but they're convinced that God wills it. How do you disagree with God? Well, in my case, for a long time, my basic moral premise was "I suck." That's no way to live.

Religion can work very well for people who can compartmentalize, or not take it too seriously. Most religious people treat it as a pleasant tradition and an impetus to do right, and that's pretty much okay in my book. Not everyone is a big fan of consistency the way I am -- I have a rather black-and-white personality. But if you are a stickler for consistency then religion will break you and terrify you, and actually prevent you from living well.

You do her no harm if you're her "atheist auntie." If she stays a Mormon she'll just be a cosmopolitan one who can say "some of my best friends are atheist," which isn't so bad in itself. If she doesn't -- well, she may have to endure secrecy (while her parents are still supporting her) but she may be better off for it in the long run.

Should we be nicer to theists? I actually have a pet peeve against smarmy atheists. That can be just another bias. There can be a snotty, ignorant tone -- less often here, but familiar from people I know in real life who were raised non-religious. I don't like it, it serves no good purpose, and maybe we should consciously avoid it. Stop and think for a minute and there are historical and present-day heroes who believe in God.

comment by ata · 2010-05-05T22:55:08.108Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Sooner or later, most people find some tenet of their religion that they disagree with, or think is silly, or even horrible, but they're convinced that God wills it. How do you disagree with God?

In my experience, people in non-fundamentalist religious traditions tend to change their God to match their new opinions.

(That's no way to live either, but at least it can be less mentally burdensome than blaming oneself.)

Edit: I'm saying that sincerely, and I hope it doesn't come off as smarmy/ignorant atheism. It's an accurate description of most of the liberal religious people I know.

comment by [deleted] · 2010-05-05T23:43:15.113Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think there's much harm in that. It's what my parents and best friend do, and I admire them. They say they're religious, but when it comes to brass tacks they'll use their own common sense every time.

Religion, worn lightly in that way, is just clothing for whatever your beliefs are. If you believe in social justice, say, you may quote Jesus or Isaiah to that end, but your convictions are pretty much your own. Religion, if not taken at face value, is a pretty nice bundle of poetry, song, holidays, and moral precepts, which may not be bad as a component of one's life. I'm not entirely sure I don't want to keep up participating myself, just to be a member of the community.

Religion taken seriously is a completely different animal. If you're sufficiently literal-minded, you can't wear it lightly. You wind up like I did in high school, working in a genetics lab and seriously believing that my gel electrophoresis wasn't working because God was angry with me. I can look back on that time with some degree of amusement now, but it was hell. I was pretty damn close to drinking acrylamide on several occasions. (Happy ending of sorts: there turned out to be a physical explanation for why my experiments didn't work. It wasn't divine retribution, but contaminated reagents.)

The thing is, nobody asked me to be a superstitious, cringing freak. Most people where I grew up took their religion lightly. They had a little healthy hypocrisy. But I didn't; I took it at face value, because I was literal-minded and had a good eye for logical consistency. And when you do that, you wind up praying over your gels.

comment by MinibearRex · 2011-03-08T04:47:56.989Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Didn't come off that way to me. It's what I did for a few years, before I finally gave up my beliefs.

comment by MBlume · 2009-04-27T18:27:25.578Z · score: 9 (13 votes) · LW · GW

If Wednesday sees the argument for cryonics and dismisses it out of hand because her religion guarantees her an infinite life, and if a positive singularity occurs >100 years from now, Wednesday will lose nearly everything in that one moment of dismissal, because of her religion.

comment by AlexU · 2009-04-28T21:30:18.347Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

A problem I have with the LW community is this background assumption that infinite life somehow equals infinite utility, that living forever is clearly the rational goal, and that anyone (the vast majority of people, it seems) who doesn't express any particular zeal for this notion is deluded, irrational, or under religion's spell. A long, healthy life is certainly desirable to most people, but I think there are good, irreligious, perfectly sensible reasons for not placing any great value on immortality or living to see the distant future.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-05-25T06:29:10.530Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

My pet peeve is when people equate living for a long time with living forever or immortality.

Pet peeves are like opinions, everybody has one.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-04-27T19:17:50.723Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Not necessarily. I have a different Mormon friend who wants to be immortal - not just in the going to heaven sense, but also in the not dying sense. She'd probably go for cryonics, if she saw an argument informing her of its potential. Maybe Wednesday would too.

comment by JenniferRM · 2010-05-06T21:49:14.379Z · score: 9 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Stephanie Meyer's "Twilight" books are fascinating in this regard. Meyer is Mormon and she doesn't inject her religion into her books any obvious ways (for example, theological issues are never mentioned and none of the characters attends church) but there is a fascinating "pro life" theme that includes both the desire to procreate and the desire to be an immortal vampire if and only if it is possible to be a vampire who restrains their innate urge to tear out the necks of mortals and feast upon their blood.

Once I started reading vampire chick lit with an interpretative frame that it was a sort of "publicly accessible" meditation on the real world ethics of transhumanist immortalism, these stories became a lot more philosophically interesting. I watched Vampire Hunter D after seeing the connection and found myself rooting for the vampire :-P

The critical thing I'm trying to point to is that Meyer's story appears to be anti-abortion and also pro-vampire. And then there's the existence of the Mormon Transhumanist Association...

Personally I think that the lesswrong community might have a phobic reaction to theism specifically because some religious people (especially first generation converts to new religions of which Mormonism has many) are prone to mentally flinching from obvious conclusions... and sometimes they use their theology to justify doing kind of messed up things to their children. The children grow up and sometimes leap to specifically materialist atheism in an emotional counter-reaction.

I have not seen strong evidence in either direction for materialism versus an idea like simulationism except to the degree that materialism inherently pre-judges the answers to questions like (1) whether there might be some "supernatural" monkey business going on in the corners of apparent physical reality or (2) whether a timing attack on physics might produce interesting results (or cause reality to crash).

I think second and third generation theists are more likely to be open to the idea of cryonics and the reasonableness of ethically pursued transhumanist aspirations. You can put all kinds of mumbo-jumbo in people's heads, and while it might make them very frustrating parents, after a generation or three I don't think it will hurt very much, and it might selfishly help them cooperate with other members of their tribe (more than it hurts government policy if people signal their tribal allegiance by voting for, say, dumb educational policies).

By the same token, it wouldn't totally surprise me if first generation converts from theism to rationality may be going beyond the evidence in some of their initial conclusions, specifically because of the passion with which they left a fundamentalist theism and started subscribing to "fundamentalist rationality".

comment by Alicorn · 2010-05-06T22:00:12.808Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I don't see a sufficient justification to interpret Twilight as anti-abortion independent of the fact that Meyer is a Mormon. It's against forced abortion, but the person whose choice is relevant - the pregnant woman - wants her baby, and takes steps to keep it, over the objections of generally sympathetic characters who advise her otherwise.

comment by Sticky · 2010-05-06T22:08:49.310Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

So... have you provided her with the arguments?

comment by Alicorn · 2010-05-06T22:11:05.517Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

She wants to sign up but needs to a) talk to her fiancé, and b) wait until after the wedding, which is currently eating her money very hungrily.

comment by gjm · 2009-04-27T19:20:38.064Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW · GW

That's a lot of ifs.

If Wednesday deconverts, and then there's a positive singularity 30 years from now and it happens that some key people involved in its early stages are Mormons who somehow take steps to ensure that ex-Mormons get as little of the benefits as possible, then she will lose nearly everything on account of her deconversion. But so what?

comment by hamflask · 2009-04-28T02:31:46.081Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

I would say that a religious person dismissing cryonics is at least an order of magnitude more likely than the scenario you proposed.

comment by gjm · 2009-04-28T09:06:00.747Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I take it you mean that the whole scenario MBlume proposed is at least an order of magnitude more likely than the whole scenario I proposed. Quite possibly; but not, I think, much more than an order of magnitude. And I don't think either scenario dominates the landscape in such a way that we can tell whether or not Wednesday should deconvert on the basis of that one scenario.

"If you do X, the very bad thing Y could be a consequence" is not generally a good argument for doing X.

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2009-04-27T23:17:24.996Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I think it's far from clear that staying religious will make her happier than not.

What if she's gay?

OK, I'm guessing that your Mormon parent friend isn't very comfortable with those teachings of the church. Perhaps they even openly reject them, and will make sure their daughter knows they think anyone who says otherwise is talking nonsense, even if it's the preacher. Perhaps they'll make sure and do that long before they know anything about her sexuality. How will they be with the next boundary?

Maybe it's bisexuality, or SM, or polyamory, or trans, or maybe it's something we'll hear more about in fifteen or twenty years time. Being surrounded by Mormons when you discover you have an inclination like that is uncomfortable. From what I gather about experiences like that, though, it helps to know at least that the religion isn't true, and that there's no Hell.

Even if she's none of these things, I hazard that conversion to atheism can significantly enhance the joy she can take in her sexuality. That's just one of many ways it can bring joy, it's just one dear to my heart.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-04-27T23:33:23.215Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

For the purposes of the point I had in mind I'm assuming Wednesday will be cisgendered, heterosexual (or bisexual and unaware of that/aware but okay with not expressing it), and at least vanilla enough to be comfortable in Mormon culture.

comment by MBlume · 2009-05-02T07:22:12.089Z · score: 8 (10 votes) · LW · GW

I really don't think there is any "vanilla enough to be comfortable in Mormon culture" -- Mormon culture teaches overwhelming repression of fundamental sexual drives. It tries to make people feel guilty for masturbating, for Cthulu's sake.

I don't care who you are, what your orientation is, what your kinks are -- that kind of repression is damaging.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-05-02T13:15:49.765Z · score: 4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

What if you're a (romantically inclined) asexual?

Edit: They exist. I know one. (I also know a non-romantic asexual, so I know the difference.)

comment by MBlume · 2009-05-02T19:50:51.250Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Wouldn't the expectation of bearing children be a bit of a problem there? Mormons are supposed to have (procreative) sex eventually, as I understand it.

Still, it was a mistake on my part to try to hold and defend the proposition "there is no such thing as a well-adjusted Mormon" -- I'm sure they are a few. My point is simply that the belief structure is very widely damaging -- that knowing nothing about Wednesday, the overwhelming probability is that she would be much better off were she free of it.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-05-02T20:15:07.527Z · score: 10 (10 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, they are expected to have kids, but asexuals don't have to be repulsed by sex, it just doesn't interest them in and of itself. The one I mentioned plans to have children naturally if possible and doesn't talk about sex as a horrifying ordeal, just a neutral prerequisite. If she were going to adopt, I'd expect her to talk about the paperwork similarly.

comment by frozenchicken · 2010-08-08T15:55:15.968Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

As a member of the aforementioned subgroup, I endorse this representation. Well said.

comment by lessdazed · 2011-05-25T06:19:42.639Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Impressed you said so publicly and hope it helps people feel less restrained from "coming out" in general. I would not have been able to do so were I in a position like yours. I was able to recently share something a few orders of magnitude less difficult to talk about.

comment by MBlume · 2009-05-02T20:55:28.205Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

huh, didn't know that, thanks =)

comment by NancyLebovitz · 2010-05-05T19:35:40.425Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

It's quite likely that Wednesday will have children, and not unlikely that at least one of them won't have a sexuality that fits well with Mormonism.

Are those odds enough to say that Mormonism is a loss for Wednesday?

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2009-04-28T09:25:28.997Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Er, am I missing a reason why it's valid to look only at that side of the scales when weighing up what our attitude to religion should be?

comment by Alicorn · 2009-04-28T14:30:39.532Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Hence my disclaimer. I'm only talking about a small subset of theists, represented by Wednesday, who are happy, comfortable, and totally immersed in their religion. An uncomfortable Wednesday would have extra reasons to be suspicious of Mormonism, and I would have less sympathy for the choice to remain in the faith.

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2009-04-28T14:35:44.301Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Is there more to this than if you only allow beans on one side of the scale then it's not hard to guess how it will swing?

comment by MrHen · 2009-04-28T14:41:55.274Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Is there more to this than if you only allow beans on one side of the scale then it's not hard to guess how it will swing?

I think you are putting the beans on the wrong scale. Alicorn is not measuring proper attitudes for religion. What is being measured are attitudes toward people explicitly like Wednesday. This is less taking all the non-Wednesday theists off the religion scale and more taking the Wednesday beans to a completely different scale. Whether you find that useful is completely relevant, but I think it is interesting.

comment by ChrisPine · 2010-05-09T12:51:31.590Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

It doesn't seem that it would make her any richer, happier, more successful...

Sounds like you weren't raised Mormon. :)

I was, so naturally what I'm about to say is extremely personal and important to me, and likely to be subject to the "what's true for me must be true for all Mormons", which is absurd, as most Mormons do not go one to become atheists as I have, but still...

...I cannot imagine how one could embrace the beauty and magnificence of this big world if one is stuck in the much smaller world of Mormonism. The contradictions mount and mount, until one of the following must happen:

  • one gives up on Mormonism,
  • one gives up on Worldly Things,
  • one learns to not be bothered by contradictions. (am I missing any possiblilities?)

I claim that giving up on the Extra-Mormon world does make one much less happy, and I just can't imagine being happy in a life of contradictions... but maybe that's just me?

Anyway, for the sake of their happiness, I want my children to have the whole world open to them, and I hope Wednesday will have the same.

comment by JohnH · 2011-04-20T20:05:12.268Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

what contradictions?

comment by ChrisPine · 2011-05-11T09:55:13.719Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Wow... this was from a long time ago, and I don't remember exactly what I was thinking at the time, but I can try some guesses:

Contradictions in fact: there's really no good evidence for god or Jesus or the Book of Mormon or the Bible... these things are (at least to me) clearly false. (This is a site on rationality, not atheism, so I don't want to get caught up in a discussion on atheism... but if one is honest and rational, the contradictions abound.)

Contradictions in morality: Is alcohol really wrong? Smoking? Coffee?? Not sure what the Mormon positions are on things like oral/anal sex with one's spouse, but I'm pretty sure that they are not at all into masturbation, threesomes/foursomes/moresomes, bi-/homosexuality, swinging, or just about any form of polyamory. Sorry, but these things are fun!! They are simply not sinful, and not wrong. (Sure, any of these could be abused, but the same could be said of candles or canned corn... "could be abused" is not a sufficient condition for "sinful".)

And finally... I'm not sure if there are any vegan Mormons (there probably are), but it seems like the Mormon position on such things (I don't claim to know! only guessing!) is that animals are here for humans to use. As a vegan, I vehemently disagree. I'm guessing that the Mormon church would not have a problem with a member living a vegan lifestyle (would not consider it wrong to so do), but would consider it wrong (at least in the sense of "incorrect", if not in the sense of "immoral") to believe that killing animals is wrong.

I don't think there's a lot of room for one to make up one's own mind about morality/ethics in the Mormon church (and probably in many religions). Considering how many things I think are wrong that the church is just fine with, and how many things the church thinks are wrong that I think are tons of fun... I would be far less happy to still be Mormon.

I'm guessing that's what I was trying to say, almost exactly one year ago.

comment by JohnH · 2011-05-14T07:55:58.204Z · score: -6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

One year is not that long of a time frame. This is supposed to be a rationality site and in places where logic matters there are people trying to answer questions posed hundreds of years ago. If you had any actual contradictions then you should still be aware of them after a year or you would be able to easily remember them.

there's really no good evidence for god or Jesus or the Book of Mormon or the Bible... these things are (at least to me) clearly false.

Well, there is evidence that the books mentioned exist and their is some decent evidence that Jesus existed historically. There is quite a bit of evidence that there was indeed the kingdom of Israel and a Babylonian captivity and so forth. I have to assume you are saying that Jesus wasn't the Son of God, and etc., that God doesn't exist, and that from the first two all books about God are therefore not truthful.

There is tons of evidence for all of those things being true so I have to assume that none of it meets your standard of goodness. That is another entire topic by itself so lets leave it alone for now.

You haven't pointed to a contradiction in fact, just that they are things that you do not think exist.

these things are fun!! They are simply not sinful, and not wrong.

Okay, something being fun does not mean that it is not sinful. To be sinful (or wrong) requires some concept of sin (or right). Concepts of sin generally, but not always, require some sense of supernatural law or law held universally by all of nature. Throwing out all such possibilities does indeed negate the idea that they are sinful but does not say that within a system that holds a premise of sin that there exists any contradiction.

Is alcohol really wrong?

As a law of health and a recommendation to being more spiritual and avoid the consequences of alcohol for this dispensation alcohol is forbidden. There could easily be more reasons why it is forbidden currently, not being God I can't say what are all His reasons. So is it eternally wrong, no, is it currently contrary to the laws of God, yes.

Just about any form of polyamory.

Polygamy is currently illegal according to the laws of the United States (and many other countries). Were it to be legalized the continuation of the practice would require additional revelation as per the scripture in the book of Jacob. All other forms of polyamory are indeed contrary to the basic dictates of morality given the assumptions held by the Latter-Day Saints.

There are many possible ways to argue against most of what you post as being fun here that do not require the use of any type of religion.

I'm not sure if there are any vegan Mormons

Some of the Presidents of the Church have been vegetarian. Forbidding others to eat meat is contrary to the commandments given in the Doctrine and Covenants. Animals are for the benefit and use of man but we are also responsible for them and are answerable before God for shedding their blood such that doing so with no need is sinful. From this it is easy to construct a position that fits within the commands of God that allows for someone to be vegetarian and to hold the position that killing animals is, generally, wrong. No milk and no honey (and yeast (depending on what type of vegan)) becomes a harder position to defend.

Fun does not mean something is or is not wrong. If I were a sadist I might find it "fun" to torture small furry animals. The fun-ness doesn't weigh into the equation unless you are a utilitarian and then it must be weighed against any negative side effects to you and to society at large. Using many different measures of negative side effects it is possible to argue that almost everything listed is immoral under a utilitarian system.

For someone convinced of contradictions you haven't provided any. Remember you have to find the contradictions internally, so within the belief structure of the religion, or you have just justified your own actions, not pointed out any flaw in the morality structure based on the premises. That is, you have said I like and wish to do these actions, these actions contradict the LDS belief system, therefore I will give up the LDS belief system rather then change my actions. This takes as a premise that the actions are good and then concludes the belief system is bad, not that the belief system is internally contradictory.

comment by ChrisPine · 2011-05-17T08:50:18.435Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not really sure how much I should reply to any of this... I'm not trying to convince you that your religion is wrong. Most of my family is still Mormon, so I'm quite good at hanging out with Mormons and not trying to convince them that they are wrong. (In fact, my deeply-ingrained strategy is to avoid conversations just like the one we are having right now.)

Perhaps I should start at the end:

For someone convinced of contradictions you haven't provided any. Remember you have to find the contradictions internally, so within the belief structure of the religion

No, I really don't have to find them internally... I just have to find them within myself. I was not attempting to debunk Mormonism. (There are plenty of sites out there that do that, though, if you are really interested...) This was originally about Wednesday, and what I was saying (or trying to say) was that I could not live with the contradictions between what I believed and what Mormons are "supposed to" believe.

Perhaps this is all revolving around the word "contradiction"... and perhaps I should have used a different word.

And with that, I'm not sure I should even address your points. "Animals are for the benefit and use of man," for example... well, yeah, I just don't believe that. You state it like it's fact.

In general, on morality: if it doesn't hurt someone, it isn't wrong. I didn't think I needed to say that, but I haven't talked to religious people about "right and wrong" in a long, long time. I haven't met anyone who honestly thought masturbation was wrong in a long time... guess I'm out of practice. :-) Obviously "fun" is neither necessary nor sufficient for something to be "not wrong". My point: if it doesn't hurt anyone, then it isn't wrong. And if it's also fun, then Mormonism hurts you by making your life less wonderful than it could have been (at least in that instance).

As for contradictions in fact: there were no horses in America. There was no Flood, and no Adam and Eve. I know Mormons have that "as far as it is translated correctly" clause for the Bible, but even so: if a book is the word of God, it shouldn't be factually incorrect, should it? (And it shouldn't contain spelling errors.)

And you glossed right over the "there is no God" part. Well, do what you need to do, but for many of us: the absence of God is as much a fact as the existence of the Sun. So a book that says "there is a God" is contradicting the facts.

This is not a logic game to me: this is about what is really right and wrong, and how best to live in this short life we get (since it's the only one we get). And for dear Wednesday's sake, I hope she gets as much joy and beauty and excitement and fun that life has to offer!

And some of that involves alcohol (taken responsibly (which is not the same as "in moderation" in all cases)). And some of that (well, kind of a lot at some points) involves masturbation. And, if she plays her cards right, some of that might even involve polyamory or bisexuality or any of the billions of ways to love people. It's what I want for my own children, and it's what I want for Wednesday.

But in the Mormon church... I just don't think she's going to find that.

comment by Alicorn · 2011-05-17T09:03:37.377Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Nobody I care about much is telling me I can't have alcohol or polyamory, and yet I find that my fun does not involve those things. I would appreciate a less normative endorsement of the options you list.

comment by gjm · 2011-05-17T10:34:05.719Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Isn't the point simply that what's-most-fun-for-Wednesday might well turn out to involve those things, and that it's not good for her options to be reduced drastically without good reason?

comment by Alicorn · 2011-05-17T18:23:44.510Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That's what I think. ChrisPine's phrasing implies something stronger.

comment by ChrisPine · 2011-05-18T18:25:53.978Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

My apologies... gjm summarized my position quite well. I also listed smoking (which I don't do), and some more mainstream sexual pleasures... I certainly did not intend a normative (or even a personal!) endorsement.

comment by JohnH · 2011-05-17T15:18:16.998Z · score: -5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

Animals are for the benefit and use of man," for example... well, yeah, I just don't believe that. You state it like it's fact.

I am sorry, was I supposed to not answer from with in LDS theology? That is from scripture and therefore if one holds the beliefs that God exists and that the LDS Church is true then that statement is true. If I wasn't supposed to answer according to LDS theology, which is what I believe, then what system was I supposed to work from?

this is about what is really right and wrong

For me as well. However, you started that sentence by saying it wasn't a logic game. If logic and reason are not to be used in determining what is really right and wrong and divine revelation is out then what are you left with? Are you trying to say you have taken then indefensible but unassailable position of a relativist that also believes logic itself is relative? In which case, you should have let us know this to start out with as any claims of contradiction, if that is what you hold, may as well be saying that 1=1 is a contradiction.

My point: if it doesn't hurt anyone, then it isn't wrong.

And one of my points is that even with this definition most of what you have posted as being fun can and does hurt people and society.

I hope she gets as much joy and beauty and excitement and fun that life has to offer!

There is a scripture that says that "Wickedness never was happiness" but it can give pleasure. It is my position that she will have as much joy and beauty and excitement and fun as she can by making good decisions.

For alcohol, for instance, Wednesday is less likely to remember what she is doing if she is drunk so any fun she is currently having (if in reflection it really was fun) will hold less long term value then if she was not drunk. She would also be more likely to do things that she would regret latter. She is also risking her long term mental and physical healthy by drinking, especially if not "in moderation", as well as the health and safety of others.

there were no horses in America

False statement on so many levels of false. Horses were in the Americas and eventually went extinct. Archeology is not an exact science and just because something is not known now does not mean it will not be known latter. There have been horses found even still so the statement that there were no horses is merely an assumption that because there were no horses when the Europeans came that all horse skeletons found previous to that were either from the prehistoric (as commonly understood, not as defined by archeology) time periods or are otherwise anomalies.

There was no Flood, and no Adam and Eve

Again these statements are based on a lot of assumptions. Myths of the flood exist in almost all cultures so to me it seems arrogant to say it did not exist. Of course archeologist will say it doesn't but they also say that the Mayan ceremonial scepter and head dress were elaborations in the carvings and may not have existed even though similar things are found in dryer areas of mesoamerica and they were made out of wood and feathers. It is the way they work.

And it shouldn't contain spelling errors.

If it had been handed pretranslated from God to a prophet with some guarantee that the typesetters at the printers wouldn't err in placing the type then I would agree. However, it was translated by Joseph reading the plates to a scribe and then that translation being taken to the printers. Therefore, even if Joseph read everything perfectly there was still chances for errors in the scribes and in the printer that Joseph later corrected.

the absence of God is as much a fact as the existence of the Sun

I would have to be an idiot not to be aware of this fact on this site given how much of it I have read. I have stated that I know that God exists and have provided the way that anyone that so wishes can also know that fact. I have also provided other evidence. For me the opposite of that statement is true.

I am aware of many logical arguments for the existence of God but I, personally, do not find them to be convincing without the assumption to start that God may exist making all such arguments to be somewhat circular in nature. Further much of the evidence that I see for a God are used by others, including those on this site, to be evidence that there is not a God which means either I or they are misunderstanding the evidence or it isn't evidence for either position. In either case such evidence should not be used, in my opinion, in any argument over the existence or non-existence of God.

comment by shokwave · 2011-05-18T23:02:08.655Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Again these statements are based on a lot of assumptions. Myths of the flood exist in almost all cultures so to me it seems arrogant to say it did not exist.

A similar myth in many cultures is evidence of an attractor in cultural idea-space. A worldwide natural disaster is such an attractor, but there are other attractors that are far more likely.

comment by ChrisPine · 2011-05-18T19:43:03.692Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'm just not sure we're having the same conversation here, John. I really didn't want to debate Mormon theology or the existence of God. My main point was that the Mormon church is too restrictive in terms of what is "allowed", both in terms of behaviors and beliefs. Too restrictive on things that might give Wednesday happiness some day.

However, you started that sentence by saying it wasn't a logic game. If logic and reason are not to be used in determining what is really right and wrong and divine revelation is out then what are you left with? Are you trying to say you have taken then indefensible but unassailable position of a relativist that also believes logic itself is relative? In which case, you should have let us know this to start out with as any claims of contradiction, if that is what you hold, may as well be saying that 1=1 is a contradiction.

This is EXACTLY what I mean by "playing logic games". Are you really trying to understand my position here, or just reductio-ad-absurdum everything I say? Because I have a seven-year-old, and I get plenty of that already. :-)

And one of my points is that even with this definition most of what you have posted as being fun can and does hurt people and society.

I suspected you would say this, which is why I mentioned "candles and canned corn" in an attempt to skip over this part: yes, alcohol can hurt people, and it does. So do swimming pools. (I'm not even sure which one is responsible for more deaths per year, but they are both WAY more than for marijuana, in any case.) Yet the Mormon church forbids alcohol, but not pools. I am saying that both are fun, but only if handled responsibly.

Forgive me if I'm mischaracterizing your arguments, but I feel like you are spending more energy trying to point out why I'm wrong and Mormonism is right, than you are in honestly trying to understand my position: hurting people is bad, and having fun is good. Some things can be fun in some contexts and hurtful in others. The fun ones are good, and the hurtful ones are bad. But I didn't really need to spell that out, did I? I think you knew what I meant.

For alcohol, for instance, Wednesday is less likely to remember what she is doing if she is drunk

Yeah... I don't mean to ad-hominem you, but, just as a meta-statement: this really sounds like the kind of thing someone without a lot of experience with alcohol would say. Obviously she doesn't need to get totally drunk every time she drinks... this is certainly not what I had in mind. But the Mormon church also forbids a glass or two of wine with dinner, once a week. And that hurts nobody. And is pretty fun for many people. The kind of fun they will remember.

Myths of the flood exist in almost all cultures so to me it seems arrogant to say it did not exist.

Arrogant?? Do you have any idea how incredibly impossible such a thing would have been?? Run the numbers on this one... (unless, of course, you just say "God did it"). In any case, one can look at the rings of trees, match them up to older trees, match those up to still older trees... there's been no flood for many MANY thousands of years, on that evidence alone.

Argh! I really don't want to point-by-point debate you on your beliefs! I am not trying to convince you of anything. But if you are interested, you can look into it: the flood was either allegory, or it was a serious "God just did it, then covered up the evidence" moment (and obviously I can't argue against that).

Anyway... if you find peace and happiness in the Mormon church, and you don't feel hindered by all the things you can't do, and you don't feel stifled that you can't decide for yourself what is right and wrong in all cases (I am speaking of coming to a decision that it is unethical to eat animals, for example, which the church would find to be incorrect), then fine.

However, I did not feel that way.

comment by JohnH · 2011-05-18T20:47:06.419Z · score: -2 (8 votes) · LW · GW

... this is certainly not what I had in mind.

I assumed it was, based on the "not in moderation".

But the Mormon church also forbids a glass or two of wine with dinner, once a week.

Yes it does. You are free to read section 89 where it is so forbidden to see why.

In any case, one can look at the rings of trees, match them up to older trees, match those up to still older trees..

Not sure the trees would have died. Also not sure of the exact nature of the flood. The myth is an extremely common one and myths are usually based on some sort of fact. That we haven't definitively shown what this was based on does not mean that it did not exist.

it is unethical to eat animals, for example, which the church would find to be incorrect

I just showed that the church would not find this to be incorrect. I actually know some members that hold this exact position and they are members in good standing. Like I said some of the presidents of the church have held this position.

Something being culturally being less acceptable has nothing to do with whether it is incorrect or not. That the culture within much of the church would be biased against holding a vegetarian or vegan position it is true but that is nowhere near the same as saying the church itself holds the position to be wrong.

This is EXACTLY what I mean by "playing logic games"

I assume that you do not hold that position then. I have had multiple discussions with people that did hold that position and it is one of the more annoying things to deal with.

I'm not even sure which one is responsible for more deaths per year,

Alcohol causes about 23,000 fatalities a year. Pools appear to cause about 3,500 fatalities per year. Tobacco causes about 400,000 fatalities per year. Cars cause about 40,000 fatalities per year.

Many of the alcohol deaths are also car fatalities as well.

Per usage alcohol has a higher death rate then either tobacco or pools. Over the long term tobacco clearly has a higher death rate. I am unsure as to if marijuana has a similar long term usage effect. To be consistent society should either make alcohol and tobacco illegal or legalize all other substances with a similar amount of harm. I personally think each state should be able to make the decision.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-05-18T21:44:05.027Z · score: 8 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Per usage alcohol has a higher death rate then either tobacco or pools.

Actually, the best available study suggests that drinking appears to increase life expectancy on average even in fairly heavy amounts. (Ungated paper available here -- see the striking graphs in figures 1 and 2.)

In practice, of course, this varies enormously between individuals, and it's somewhat correlated with ancestry. Some people with particularly bad predispositions are indeed better off as teetotalers, but the idea that total abstinence would make everyone (or even the majority of people in Western countries) healthier is just ludicrous.

As for those supposed total alcohol death statistics, these numbers are completely arbitrary. There is simply no reasonable unique way to define deaths as due to alcohol, and with convenient enough definitions you can make the numbers vary by orders of magnitude.

comment by JohnH · 2011-05-18T23:02:29.686Z · score: -5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

those supposed total alcohol death statistics

I just put up what I found from what are generally considered reliable sources.

the idea that total abstinence would make everyone (or even the majority of people in Western countries) healthier is just ludicrous.

If you say so. Every population study that I have seen puts latter-day saints that practice at or above the life expectancy of the other longest lived population groups such as Asians.

comment by ChrisPine · 2011-05-19T19:21:18.853Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

About vegetarianism: you seem to be confusing two different positions:

  • it is ok to not eat animals
  • it is not ok to eat animals

One is the Mormon position, and the other is the vegan position. I understand that the Mormon church would be ok with something living a vegan lifestyle. No problem.

I am talking about being able to coherently hold the Mormon position and the vegan position. I'm talking about having the freedom to decided for myself that I believe it is wrong to eat animals. This is different from the freedom to just not eat animals. One is about actions you do or don't do, and the other is about ethics.

If I were still Mormon, I could not give a talk in church about how it's wrong to eat animals. If I were to tell others that I thought it was wrong (I'm really not the preachy sort at all, BTW, and most of my friends are carnivores, but if I were to tell others), I would be told by someone in authority in the church that I was incorrect. That animals are here for us to use, and God said so, and I am wrong if I think that's not how it is. Because an old book said so.

I find this unacceptable. I find the idea (that I am not free to try to discover what is right and wrong in this world) to be totally unacceptable. After thinking long and hard about this (for years), and after accruing a great deal of evidence and experience, I have come to believe something, and someone who has never thought much about it at all can just tell me that I'm wrong, and This Is The Mormon Truth, because it's written in an old book. It's everything this website is against!! (IMHO)

Now don't take this the wrong way: I welcome religious people to this website, I value differing points of view, and I think we can all stand to be a bit less wrong. But I have to ask: given your viewpoints (which seem to suggest that the way to be less wrong is to listen to god and read your scriptures)... why are you here?? What are you getting out of this?

Anyway... about the alcohol: did you even read what I originally wrote? I wrote "alcohol (taken responsibly (which is not the same as "in moderation" in all cases))"

Responsibly. Which might (might!), in some cases, be to some degree of excess... but still responsibly. That is what I said. You took that and went straight to every sort of excess and irresponsibility you could think of.

comment by JohnH · 2011-05-25T04:37:44.285Z · score: -5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Your post only makes sense if God does not exist and if His prophets are not real. If the opposite assumptions are held, as they should by anyone of most religions and most especially someone that is LDS, then much of what you said falls apart. As if God is real and a book actually does contain His word then contradicting that book would be going against what is real and therefore not rational.

So it is not because an old book said so but because God said so and since it is God that said so one is able to confirm for oneself the truthfulness of not only the "old book" but also of the claim that it is wrong to forbid others from eating meat (or whatever else). Since God is all-knowing and we are not then when our limited understanding contradicts what God has said should we claim that God does not exist despite evidence that He does or should we think that we are mistaken in our views?

If God exists then that which is predicated on His non-existence becomes irrational and the rational thing to do is to change those views that contradict His. If there is no God to listen to then it is clearly irrational to listen to God, as He wouldn't exist in that case. However, if there is Something to listen to then why is it irrational to listen to It?

Many of the conclusions drawn on this site depend on the non-existence of God and fall apart if He does in fact exist (and one is able to verify for oneself that He does). However, even with the existence of God it is still extremely useful to learn to be more rational (the stated goal of the site) as God does not command in all things but expects us to govern ourselves based on the principles He has given. I wish all men everywhere would take ideas seriously and attempt to be rational in their beliefs and in their actions.

comment by ChrisPine · 2011-05-25T07:57:13.078Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

[Disclaimer: I'm having a pretty strong negative emotional reaction to this post, and much of this thread, but I'm really trying to give you the benefit of the doubt; I apologize if I come off as snippy.]

Your post only makes sense if God does not exist

No, it makes sense in any case. Even if there's a god. Even if that god is omniscient. Even if that god is benevolent. And even is that god is perfectly rational!!

There's a difference between "rational" and "ethical". (By your argument, Satan could not possibly be rational... is that your belief?) There's a difference between "rational" and "logically internally consistent". The mentally ill can be logically internally consistent, but that is not what we mean by "rational".

Let me ask you again: why are you here? I don't intend it as a rhetorical equivalent to "fuck off"... I'm honestly asking: what do you hope to get out of this?

I don't know if you read Eliezer's recent Epistle to the New York Less Wrongians, but I'd like to highlight a few of the items in the list of things rationality is about:

  • Saying oops and changing your mind occasionally.
  • Knowing that clever arguing isn't the same as looking for truth.
  • Reserving your self-congratulations for the occasions when you actually change a policy or belief, because while not every change is an improvement, every improvement is a change.
  • Asking whether your most cherished beliefs to shout about actually control your anticipations, whether they mean anything, never mind whether their predictions are actually correct.

These are what rationality are for me. (The second point, in particular, is what I was trying to say when I spoke of "logic games".) And these things are not dependent on there not being a god! (In fact, if you want to convince me that there is a god (in another thread, please!), these points are the way to do it.)

Are you here to say 'oops' on occasion? Are you here to look for the truth (or are you convinced that you've already found it)?

Rationality, the set of tools for for examining and changing our beliefs, necessarily must be more basic than any of your beliefs. Otherwise, it isn't rationality... just logic games.

I'm here because I want to be Less Wrong! And that means changing my beliefs, and not to be more in-line with everyone else here! For example, my most recent 'oops':

I recently adopted a vegan lifestyle, saying "oops! I shouldn't be eating animals". (While I may, for the sake of brevity, refer to myself as 'vegan', in my mind I see myself as 'living a vegan lifestyle'. I've even quipped, "No, I'm not vegan, I just live like one.") I don't know if there are any other vegans here, but I've never seen any posts claiming it to be virtuous, and I assume it is a minority view here.

But it was a process of rationality that led me to making the lifestyle choice. While I may have, someday, come to the same conclusions on my own, it was my exposure to Less Wrong that helped me to "shut up and multiply", to overcome my biases and fears, and just say 'oops'.

Even the name of this site helped! Just as this isn't "BeingRight.com", the issue for me was clearer once I viewed (my own personal take on) veganism not as "the Right choice", but as "Less Animals": I don't claim to be right, just a bit less wrong that I was being before.


Sorry, that was a bit of a tangent... but do you see what I mean? That's what I'm here for. Is that what you're here for?

comment by Peterdjones · 2011-05-25T14:25:31.534Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If God exists then that which is predicated on His non-existence becomes irrational

If God demonstrably exists, it is irrational to ignore the evidence saying so. That's a rather important difference.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-05-18T21:48:59.706Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

You are free to read section 89 where it is so forbidden to see why.

As a means of procrastinating, I looked up section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants, if that's what it's called. The "why" seems to be that there are people with insufficient willpower to resist caffeine or alcohol addiction (1).

So what? There are people without the willpower to resist chewing ice. Shouldn't the Mormons ban ice?

(1) Wait! I have to be careful here. It never mentions either caffeine or alcohol! It's specifically "grape wine" addiction and "hot drink" addiction -- though Word of God is that hot drink means tea and coffee, curiously excluding soda.

comment by Alicorn · 2011-05-18T22:10:45.572Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

hot drink means tea and coffee, curiously excluding soda.

Curiously including iced tea and iced coffee and curiously excluding hot cocoa and warm cider, too.

comment by JohnH · 2011-05-18T22:44:22.249Z · score: -6 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Caffeine is not what is prohibited, that is an assumption that many people make but that is not well founded as there are many things that contain caffeine that are allowed.

It actually is wine and strong drink for the alcohol.

Shouldn't the Mormons ban ice?

Considering it is a revelation from God that statement should be changed to "Shouldn't God ban ice?".

As to the rest, we believe in continuing revelation, therefore it is completely consistent for the First Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve to have clarified the position. Anything more then that is between the individual member and God and if shared is speculation.

comment by shokwave · 2011-05-18T22:56:31.676Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

that is an assumption that many people make

It's a reasonable assumption, that's why. When we see something nonsensical like "hot drink addiction" which doesn't actually exists in meaningful quantities in the world, we instinctively repair that phrase. The closest sensible meaning is "caffeine addiction", because caffeine is in the hot drinks prohibited, and "caffeine addiction" is something that is in the world in meaningful quantities.

There are a few other things I would like to bring up but my experience with your previous postings indicate to me you come from an unalterable epistemic state. That is, you do not see the need to provide reasons other than God or revelation. I can't do anything with that.

comment by JohnH · 2011-05-18T23:20:19.468Z · score: -5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

It's a reasonable assumption, that's why.

What of the other things that are allowed yet still have caffeine?

you do not see the need to provide reasons other than God or revelation

I have the belief that there are reasons for what God does and what is in revelation. I do not claim to know all of the reasons, though and think that some of the reasons people assume for such things aren't consistent.

If God is real and is all knowing then when He says something then that is the way it is. How is that not consistent?

comment by shokwave · 2011-05-20T04:30:12.780Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If God is real and is all knowing then when He says something then that is the way it is. How is that not consistent?

If X then Y

X

Therefore Y

This is the form of your statement (X is "God is real and all knowing" and Y is "Things are the way He says they are") and I fully agree it is consistent. It is the second step - X is true - that you have not taken. "If X then Y, X, therefore Y" does not assert the truth of X, it conditions the truth of Y on the truth of X.

By way of analogy, there are many mathematical systems that are consistent yet do not apply to reality (in some senses, I believe, they are more consistent than the system(s) that do apply to reality!). Asserting their consistency will not make them apply to reality.

I have the belief that there are reasons for what God does and what is in revelation.

This is already deeply nested and derailed so I don't feel bad pursuing this - could you please tell me what brought you to this belief (that there are reasons for what God does)? Be as concrete as possible, if you could!

comment by JohnH · 2011-05-20T05:29:44.569Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

X is true - that you have not taken

I assume you mean by this that I have not proven to your satisfaction that X is true? I have presented to you most things that are easily with in my reach to show that God is real or to show ways to prove to yourself that God is real.

Consistency doesn't make it apply to reality but I feel it is a necessary prerequisite to doing so.

could you please tell me what brought you to this belief?

For behold, this is my work and my glory—to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man.

Moses 1:39

Then the knowledge that God is a glorified and perfected man, that is when it says "in our image and likeness" it wasn't being figurative and that when Christ says He only does what He saw His Father do He was speaking literally. Also, "the glory of God is intelligence". Also, the fact that if God did not act consistently then He would cease to be God, as per the Book of Mormon. Also, the fact that when Jesus said that life eternal was knowing God He was telling the truth and God is knowable.

Therefore God has a purpose, He acts consistently, and He is understandable, and He was human but is now perfectly intelligent. Therefore He has reasons for everything that He does.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-05-18T23:28:42.495Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Caffeine is not what is prohibited, that is an assumption that many people make but that is not well founded as there are many things that contain caffeine that are allowed.

See the footnote under (1).

The argument remains: if the reason behind section 89 is the principle that because there exist people too weak to resist the addiction of X, then we must ban X, the prohibitions of section 89 are at least laughably incomplete, and at most incoherent.

If, on the other hand, this isn't the reason behind the prohibitions of section 89, then there is no other reason stated. So the assertion that "You are free to read section 89 where it is so forbidden to see why." is false, because there is no "why" given.

Also see Explaining vs. Explaining Away.

comment by JohnH · 2011-05-18T23:51:04.106Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

the prohibitions of section 89 are at least laughably incomplete

Please remember it was given in 1833 and that there is continuing revelation such that many other substances not listed in the section 89 are likewise banned. Also, please note that in vs 3 it states that it is given for a principle so that if one is too weak to resist the addiction of X then that person should avoid X, that is the principle (well, the one that gets the most attention at least)

God does not command in all things and we are to be taught correct principles and then govern ourselves. Hence the reason that vegetarianism is perfectly acceptable to the church. Also the reason that God was not required to list all of the substances that would in the future need to be banned.

comment by Alicorn · 2011-05-18T21:15:26.087Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Alcohol causes about 23,000 fatalities a year. Pools appear to cause about 3,500 fatalities per year. Tobacco causes about 400,000 fatalities per year. Cars cause about 40,000 fatalities per year.

Upvoted for apparently actually looking this up.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-05-18T21:29:21.745Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I wouldn't be so generous. The car accident statistics are probably accurate, and the pool drownings might be too, but the other two figures are necessarily arbitrary and tendentious, however they were arrived at.

comment by Mitchell_Porter · 2011-05-14T08:01:03.434Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

there is some decent evidence that Jesus existed historically

What is it?

comment by JohnH · 2011-05-14T08:26:06.554Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Historians from the time period and Roman records from the time period mention the existence of Jesus with no dispute as to if he really existed. This isn't iron clad evidence that Jesus existed. That is there is iron clad evidence that there were people named Jesus at the time but that doesn't tell you if anything else from the story is true. The historians and Roman records admit that there almost certainly was a Jesus that was crucified. They also provide evidence that the claims made about Jesus, insofar as they touch on Jewish and Roman law and the facts of the trial, are not contradicted. This means there almost certainly was someone (well, at least one) named Jesus that was crucified by the Romans at the request of the the Jewish authorities and that this person claimed to be the Messiah.

Again given that Jesus was a common name, crucifixion was not uncommon, and Jesus in the Bible takes the place of someone else that claimed to be the Messiah then this still isn't saying much. In particular it doesn't say anything about any teachings of said Jesus or anything on the miracles or the resurrection. There is, as far as I know, no non-partisan record of any of those things.

comment by Furcas · 2009-04-27T18:42:59.095Z · score: 5 (11 votes) · LW · GW

It would make her right. And that would be all it would do - if she were lucky.

Huh. Do you need me to post a few dozen links to articles detailing incidents where Mormons did evil acts because of their religious beliefs? I mean, Mormonism isn't as inherently destructive as Islam, but it's not Buddhism either.

Anyway, even if Wednesday ended up living her life without once doing harm to others or to herself because of her beliefs, deconverting would still be a good idea: At the very least, theism will distort the rest of her priorities, because they will be in competition with delusion-based priorities like "I want to please God", and "I want my friends and family to go to the highest level of Heaven". Becoming an atheist would therefore allow her to put the right importance on her real priorities.

comment by Simetrical · 2009-04-28T21:29:46.933Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Huh. Do you need me to post a few dozen links to articles detailing incidents where Mormons did evil acts because of their religious beliefs? I mean, Mormonism isn't as inherently destructive as Islam, but it's not Buddhism either.

Do you have empirical evidence that Mormons are more likely to cause harm than atheists? (Let's say in the clear-cut sense of stabbing people instead of in the sense of spreading irrationality.) Mormons might do more bad things because their god requires it, but atheists might do more bad things because they don't have a god to require otherwise. They might be more likely to become nihilists or solipsists and not care about other people, say, acting purely selfishly. A priori, I have no idea which one is correct.

It seems that as a rationalist, you should be wary of assigning high probabilities here without direct empirical evidence. Especially since you presumably suffer from in-group bias. But perhaps you're aware of studies that support your view that religion is harmful in a simple sense?

(If you consider spreading religion inherently evil, then you have more reason to presume that Mormonism is harmful. You would still have to argue that the harm outweighs any possible benefit, but you'd have a stronger case for assuming that. However, by your comparisons to Islam and Buddhism you seem to mean plain old violence and so forth.)

comment by CronoDAS · 2009-05-02T14:42:51.386Z · score: 4 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Do you have empirical evidence that Mormons are more likely to cause harm than atheists? (Let's say in the clear-cut sense of stabbing people instead of in the sense of spreading irrationality.)

I'll claim that, yes, I do have such evidence. The Mormon Church funded many advertisements in favor of California Proposition 8 which denies civil rights to homosexuals.

comment by Simetrical · 2009-05-04T23:42:07.400Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Even accepting the premise that voting for the proposition was clearly wrong, that's a single anecdote. It does nothing to demonstrate that Mormons are overall worse people than atheists. It is only a single point in the atheists' favor. I could respond with examples of atheists doing terrible things, e.g., the amount of suffering caused by communists.

Anecdotes are not reliable evidence; you need a careful, thorough, and systematic analysis to be able to make confident statements. It's really surprised me how commonly people supply purely anecdotal evidence here and expect it to be accepted (and how often it is accepted!). This is a site all about promoting rationalism, and part of that is reserving judgment unless you have good evidence.

I really don't think a systematic analysis of the morality of Mormons vs. atheists exists, for any given utility function. That kind of analysis is probably close to impossible, in fact, even if you can precisely specify a utility function that a lot of people will agree on. To begin with, it would absolutely have to be controlled to be meaningful ― the cultural, etc. backgrounds of atheists are surely not comparable on average to those of Mormons.

I think this is an issue that rationalists just need to admit uncertainty about. That's life, when you're rational. Only religious people get to be certain most of the time about moral issues. A Mormon asked the same question would be able to say with confidence that the atheists caused more evil, since not following Mormonism is so evil that it would clearly outweigh any minor statistical differences between the two groups in terms of things like violent crime. If you believe in utility functions that depend on all sorts of complex empirical questions, you really can't answer most moral questions very confidently.

comment by badger · 2009-05-05T00:07:41.696Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

It does nothing to demonstrate that Mormons are overall worse people than atheists. It is only a single point in the atheists' favor.

I think these two sentences are contradictory. If it is a point in favor of the proposition that atheists are better in some regard than Mormons, then it does something to demonstrate the general case, if only weakly.

Rationality is not about reserving judgment until ideal evidence is available. Rationality is incorporating all the evidence at your disposal. I agree that most of the evidence available is mixed and weak, so it shouldn't be overweighted, but it is still relevant.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-05-02T14:52:25.987Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I agree that this was not a good thing for them to do, but I don't think it falls into the "clear-cut sense of stabbing people".

comment by Alicorn · 2009-04-27T19:12:34.129Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm operating under the assumption that Wednesday won't grow up to do anything evil, since it's pretty unlikely. I think my friend and her husband have good genes and will be good parents; the remaining factors aren't quite so determinate.

comment by Furcas · 2009-04-27T19:35:03.606Z · score: 2 (12 votes) · LW · GW

It's not unlikely at all. We already know that her parents will commit one evil act: They're going to indoctrinate their daughter into believing a bunch of nonsense before she's even learned to read, rather than let her make up her own mind. And if Wednesday remains a Mormon, chances are that she'll do the same to her own children.

comment by Technologos · 2009-04-27T20:46:32.049Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

I would hesitate to call that an evil act. If nothing else, evil requires the intention to do harm, where here the parents are almost certainly intending to do precisely what they believe is in the child's best interests.

comment by steven0461 · 2009-04-27T21:04:22.888Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

If you're a Nazi and you take a pill that causes you to believe Jews are dangerous nonsentient vampires, is killing Jews thereafter less evil? Well, probably in that case all the evil moves causally upstream into the pill-taking. But that, I think, is the same thing we're saying about the pill that is Mormonism.

comment by MBlume · 2009-04-27T21:18:35.284Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

but the pill was administered you by your parents, who received one from their parents...

if the evil moves upstream to the pill-taking then all (or most) of the evil of mormonism moves upstream to Joseph Smith.

comment by Paul Crowley (ciphergoth) · 2009-04-27T21:42:29.718Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

And of course there's no reason for it to stop there. For some reason we haven't explicitly talked about this here AFAICT, but if you're a materialist there's no hope of assigning ultimate evil to people anyway, and there's no point in trying. I'm not saying you disagree.

comment by MBlume · 2009-04-27T21:45:15.484Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I don't know by what words to call it, but there is something that to me differentiates the moral qualities of Joseph Smith teaching Mormonism to his followers, and Wednesday's parents teaching it to her: Joseph Smith (I assign high probability) explicitly knew Mormonism to be false, and spread belief in it, knowing its likely consequences, in order to increase his own wealth, status, and opportunity for sex.

comment by steven0461 · 2009-04-27T21:57:42.518Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That is also the case we're considering in the context of this post -- someone who has evidence that Mormonism is false, but chooses to ignore this evidence for personal gain, and spreads belief in Mormonism by first spreading it in herself.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2009-04-27T22:31:43.066Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

From one perspective, assuming that spreading lies for profit is actually wrong, that most people would see it on reflection as a less preferable option, and assuming that JS wasn't a mutant, he was mistaken about whether he improved his life by doing so.

comment by MBlume · 2009-04-27T22:33:53.450Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

fixed =)

comment by Technologos · 2009-04-28T19:34:26.721Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Beyond that, I'd find it hard to call any insane person "evil." How do we blame somebody for receiving incorrect sensory inputs?

Of course, this gets into all kinds of analytic philosophy and the "social construction" of sanity. Which is precisely why I want us to be careful what we call evil.

comment by Furcas · 2009-04-27T21:19:47.597Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

By the same reasoning, an Inquisitor who tortured a woman to death because he was certain she was a witch and that witches are agents of the Devil did nothing evil. Well, whatever, call it 'harmful' instead of evil, if you like. The point is that religious beliefs make those who hold them do things that they would consider evil (or harmful) if they were better rationalists.

To quote Steven Weinberg: "With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion."

comment by Technologos · 2009-04-28T19:31:45.536Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Except that torturing a woman because of a belief that she is a witch is not done for her sake.

Regardless, if we are going to judge all good-faith attempts to help somebody else evil unless the information therein imparted conforms to our present beliefs, then I suspect a great deal of the information we give each other (including on this site) will be judged as evil by the same standard in the future.

comment by gjm · 2009-04-28T19:46:03.941Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

not done for her sake.

What, never? While I can't be sure of the actual (as opposed to professed) motivations of people who tortured alleged witches, I'm pretty sure that in some cases the ostensible purpose of the torture was to produce repentance and thereby save the witch's immortal soul. For someone who believes in immortal souls and heaven and hell and so forth, that could easily end up seeming like a transaction that benefits the torturee overall.

(I agree with your second paragraph, though I'm not sure anyone's doing quite what you describe.)

comment by CronoDAS · 2009-05-02T21:03:28.017Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

This exact reasoning was generally used to justify the torture of heretics (not witches) until they recanted. After all, no Earthly torture could ever be worse than eternity in Hell, so most versions of utilitarianism would allow anything that keeps souls out of Hell.

comment by Technologos · 2009-04-28T19:59:24.402Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

No, you're right, I'm sure there are cases in which torturers could at least rationalize that what they were doing was for the sake of the woman's soul.

I've often wondered, from my time as a Catholic: if I intentionally kill someone at the moment of their confession/absolution, such that their soul is perfectly clean and I have extremely good reason to believe (within this framework) that their soul will go to Heaven, would I not be making the truly ultimate sacrifice? If my soul then were to go to Hell, I would have been literally as altruistic as it is possible to be, so my soul should go to Heaven; knowing that, however, might make me go to Hell?

Which is why reasonable moral systems ought to be slow to categorize others' good-faith actions as evil--we never know what we are doing wrong. There's some chance that future civilizations will think of me as evil for eating meat--hell, they could think of our civilization as barbaric for consuming living beings at all, rather than synthesizing sustenance some other way.

Still, point taken.

comment by gjm · 2009-04-28T22:44:27.385Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Not the truly ultimate sacrifice from that perspective, no. I recommend Jorge Luis Borges's short fiction Three versions of Judas for further ideas along those lines.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-04-27T19:37:26.066Z · score: 0 (8 votes) · LW · GW

I think the sort of evil act in question is more along the lines of "go about stabbing people" than "be honest with your children about your theistic beliefs and encourage them to adopt them too".

comment by simplicio · 2013-01-31T00:36:20.743Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Interesting post. Are your friends Jasper fforde fans? (Wednesday...)

Atheism tends to be treated as an open-and-shut case here and in other intellectually sophisticated venues, but is that fair? What about Wednesday? What would have to happen to her to get her to give up those beliefs? Well, for starters, she'd have to dramatically change her opinion of her family. Her parents care enough about honesty that they are already planning not to deceive her about Santa Claus - should she believe that they're liars?

That would be very uncharitable of her. She should continue loving them while evaluating their beliefs for herself, and criticize their beliefs to the extent that that is a good idea under the circs. That's what we all do with loved ones whom we consider wrong, isn't it? (Are other LWers ruining Christmas dinners with atheist ranting?)

Note, the whole reason we are having this conversation is because some beliefs are badges of identity, especially religious beliefs, so criticizing them is similar in emotional impact to saying "your identity sucks." This is unfortunate, but I do wish to gently point out that it is not the fault either of LessWrong or of Atheism that the rhetorical temperature is so high when such beliefs are questioned.

Is it really essential that, as a community, we exclude or dismiss or reflexively criticize theists who are good at partitioning, who like and are good at rational reasoning in every other sphere - and who just have higher priorities than being right?

I think the criticism should be done tactfully, and on their terms. But it would disrespectful of them as fellow epistemic agents to refuse to criticize their beliefs, where relevant. A person who has experienced such kid gloves "respect" will tell you that it is very unpleasant to be condescended to.

I have priorities that I'd probably put ahead of being right, too; I'm just not in a position where I really have to choose between "keeping my friends and being right", "feeling at home and being right", "eating this week and being right". That's my luck, not my cleverness, at work.

Wait: "being right" != "always blurting out what you believe." As a quote I saw recently has it, "you keep two books, not no books."

comment by gjm · 2013-01-31T00:42:36.621Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

"you keep two books, not no books"

What does this mean? (I had a look on the web and found only what I take to be your source -- a blog entry at "The Last Psychiatrist" -- and a few other references to that. Its meaning was no clearer to me in that context. It looks as if TLP is also quoting but if so there's no indication of where from.)

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-01-31T01:00:09.068Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

"Books" refers to accounting (e.g. the records you would use to keep track of your business transactions). A common euphemism for manipulating your records, e.g. to lie to the IRS for tax purposes, is "cooking the books." "Keep two books" means "have two sets of records of your business transactions, one which is the actual set and one which you use to lie to people." "Keep no books" means "don't keep track of your business transactions."

The metaphor, as I interpret it, is that you should maintain a distinction between what you believe and what you signal believing (or else you run the risk of losing track of both, mixing them up, etc.).

comment by gjm · 2013-01-31T01:18:35.473Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, I'd thought it was probably "books" in the accounting sense. However, I was either too dim or too ethical or both for the idea "a person or company might deliberately not keep accounts, in an attempt to make fraud easier" to have occurred to me. Thank you.

(Personally, I prefer to keep exactly one book.)

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-01-31T01:31:21.119Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

(Personally, I prefer to keep exactly one book.)

Really? I interpret this to mean "signal believing exactly the things I actually believe," which strikes me as a terrible idea in general. If you're determined to believe true things, some of the things you believe will end up being things you can't say, and saying them would not be instrumentally a good idea. Michael Vassar once pointed out that a commitment to saying what you believe disincentivizes believing things you can't say, which is, y'know, bad, and his advice was that rationalists should become more comfortable with lying.

(This is of course distinct from "signal that I signal believing exactly the things I believe," which is a great idea. If that's what you were doing, then great! Carry on.)

comment by gjm · 2013-01-31T02:52:35.837Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I am determined to believe true things. I don't believe there's anything I can't say (though I have a little trouble with "heteroskedasticity") but indeed there are things it's usually better not to say. So I usually avoid saying them. If this requires a load of extra bookkeeping then I've failed to notice so far. Lying requires that second book; not saying things when saying them would have bad consequences, even if you'd otherwise feel like saying them doesn't appear to.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-01-31T03:05:55.355Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I don't make a strong distinction between lies in the colloquial sense and lies by omission. "Not saying things when saying them would have bad consequences" still requires that you keep track of what things it would have bad consequences to say.

comment by gjm · 2013-01-31T10:47:48.510Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I find extremely few occasions when there's any need to be actually deceptive by not saying things. For the rest, no keeping track is required; a policy of the form "tell the truth, but don't say things that will cause too much trouble" suffices.

A difference between this and actually lying (in which category I include "lying by omission") is that in order to lie credibly and not get caught, you need to remember just what lies you've told to whom (in the best case, I suppose you can get by with just two "books", keeping track of the truth for yourself and a single set of lies for everyone else) and make sure it's all coherent. But any two subsets of the truth are consistent with one another.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-01-31T11:33:08.784Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Fair. I think I shouldn't have used the word "lie" because it seems to have primed you into a direction other than the one I was headed, but I don't know a good substitute. One kind of lie I have in mind is things like explaining Newtonian physics to physics students instead of quantum mechanics or relativity. The implicit claim that Newtonian physics accurately models reality is in some sense a lie, but it's a good enough approximation for many purposes and also useful for understanding what comes after.

An analogous kind of lie in interpersonal relationships is the following. Suppose I'm on OKCupid and it asks "are you a feminist?" Before a few months ago, my answer would have been an unhesitating "yes." Now I'm not so sure. I'm trying to keep my identity small, and "feminist" is a term that comes with a lot of baggage. I don't know if I want that baggage in my identity. I'd at least like to taboo "feminist" by default.

Nevertheless, very little has changed about how I actually treat women. I want people on OKCupid to know that. They'll have a better understanding of me, or more precisely how I treat women, if I answer "yes" to this question than they will if I answer "no."

comment by CCC · 2013-01-31T12:37:04.439Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

One kind of lie I have in mind is things like explaining Newtonian physics to physics students instead of quantum mechanics or relativity.

I have heard this sort of thing referred to as "lies-to-children". Your average junior school is full of them. (All numbers are on the number line! The atom is like a very tiny solar system!)

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-01-31T19:33:11.270Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yes, so I guess what I'm saying is that I also don't make a strong distinction between children and adults.

comment by satt · 2013-02-11T06:25:38.022Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I've been thinking that "keep your identity emergent" or "keep your identity honest" might be better advice than "keep your identity small". That is, people should let their identity emerge as a consequence of their individual object-level views, instead of deriving their individual object-level views from their identity. That reversal of causation seems to me the problem with identity, not identity in itself. So instead of deleting almost all of my identity (and how would I know which little bits to keep?), I should figure out my object-level beliefs first, and then summarize them as aspects of my identity.

Using feminism as an example, if I notice one day that I'm identifying as a feminist, I stop and ask myself about each of the individual object-level issues that feminism touches upon. If my views on those object-level issues really & truly align with those connoted by the "feminism" label, I might as well identify as a feminist; the identifier arises organically from the beliefs. If my views don't align with it, then I should stop identifying as a feminist. (My views could of course change over time, in which case I adopt/drop the identification accordingly.)

Your comment shows one advantage to this approach: it's less liable to mislead people than simply keeping one's identity "small". If I agree with the X-ist cluster of beliefs and behave accordingly, other people might well have a more accurate model of me if I self-identify as an X-ist than if I stoutly refuse to identify as such. (Of course, if I want to taboo "X-ism" in a conversation, it can make sense to avoid identifying as an X-ist. But doing so indiscriminately can increase confusion & exasperation rather than reduce them.)

comment by Nornagest · 2013-02-11T07:01:21.386Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

people should let their identity emerge as a consequence of their individual object-level views, instead of deriving their individual object-level views from their identity. That reversal of causation seems to me the problem with identity, not identity in itself.

I'd expect it to be extraordinarily hard to keep the causation one-way, even if you're trying hard and are aware of all the consequences. In order for something to be promoted to conscious attention, it has to make it through a set of perceptual filters which include some coherence checks with your existing identity: it's quite possible to believe earnestly that you're taking into account all the data even as you silently drop half of it from your consideration.

To make matters worse, I'd also expect it to be extraordinarily hard to keep identity criteria stable. For example, the kids in the famous Robber's Cave experiment (Sherif et al., 1954) readily generated stereotypes for themselves, all to support a more or less fabricated image of a distinct identity group; and this certainly isn't limited to the laboratory, as the behavior of whatever political group you like the least should demonstrate! The lesson seems to be that identities aren't static classification functions; justifications and superstitions accrete around them like nacre in the guts of an irritated oyster, growing and feeding back into an increasingly tangled complex of beliefs.

comment by satt · 2013-02-11T07:26:56.081Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

You and Qiaochu_Yuan raise good points.

I suspect that if identity is as sticky & accretive as you suggest, trying to purge my identity could prove at least as hard as wearing my identity loosely on my beliefs. But that is just a guess on my part — I ought to chew on what you've said for a bit.

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-02-11T06:44:41.308Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

One of the benefits I've found from keeping my identity small doesn't seem to be reducible to keeping my object-level views honest. Namely, I've recently identified areas of my life in which my identity was preventing me from trying new things, e.g. I thought of myself as the kind of person who didn't care about nutrition or exercise. I wasn't mistaken about any property of the world but I was supplying myself with excuses for not expanding my comfort zone. (Edit: Academician describes this happening to him in this post which I think is a useful follow-up to Keep Your Identity Small.)

comment by gjm · 2013-01-31T16:10:50.531Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

With the first sort of kinda-lie, there's again little keeping-track needed. You have some particular not-quite-right theory that you're putting forward; it's basically coherent and matches the world reasonably well, because otherwise you wouldn't be using it. And even if you slip up and mention some quantum or relativistic stuff to your students, no serious harm is done.

With the second sort, surely it's universally understood that all you're saying when you answer this sort of question is that "yes" is a less misleading answer than "no". So again I don't see any particular need for keeping-track on this account. If I were making an OKCupid profile and had to answer that question, I too would answer yes. If asked in a context that allowed for a more detailed answer, I would give one. No lying or other deception required. (Of course that might discourage possible partners who don't like detailed answers, but that's a feature, not a bug.)

I have encountered very few situations in interpersonal relationships where deliberate deception is required.

For the avoidance of doubt, I am not claiming that I absolutely never lie. But not lying is my goal, I seldom deviate from it, I strongly suspect that most such deviations I make are actually not in my best interests, and I have not found it necessary to keep track of anything much about The Lies I Tell Others.

You may of course believe me or not, as you please :-).

comment by [deleted] · 2013-01-31T12:12:23.992Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

(though I have a little trouble with "heteroskedasticity")

That doesn't feel particularly tongue-twisty to me, for a word of that length. Try “red lorry, yellow lorry”. :-)

comment by gjm · 2013-01-31T15:29:55.636Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Oh yes, there are other worse things of similar length. I confess that I chose that example partly because I like the word.

comment by Dan_Moore · 2013-01-31T20:09:54.758Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think homoskedasticity has more intriguing possibilities as a desired-for attribute that begins with 'homo.'

comment by Oligopsony · 2013-01-31T01:39:25.216Z · score: 0 (6 votes) · LW · GW

signal

Aaaarghdvghhv

comment by scientism · 2009-04-27T20:53:33.777Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The thing with atheism, or a naturalistic outlook generally, is not what it does for individuals but what it does for society generally to have more "out" atheists/naturalists. Maybe individually-speaking it'd make some peoples' lives harder but the more openly atheistic individuals we have the better off we all are. I think that's a good reason to both encourage others to become openly atheistic and to become openly atheistic oneself despite negative consequences.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-04-27T20:56:24.183Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It's unlikely that Wednesday would - without deconversion - think that having more open atheists wandering around would be a good thing in and of itself.

comment by MBlume · 2009-04-27T21:08:27.926Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Funny thing: before deconversion, I read Dispatches From the Culture Wars and occasionally Pharyngula, and generally perceived them as being the good guys and many of my own coreligionists as the bad guys.

Of course, this state of cognitive dissonance only lasted a few months, but still.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-04-28T02:38:17.627Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It's not at all uncommon to side with the perspective character, so to speak, when you read about someone - even someone who disagrees with you. Additionally, siding with certain sorts of atheist bloggers and against the theists they oppose could signify a desire for tolerance more than a belief in the metaphysical propositions at hand.

comment by MrHen · 2009-04-27T17:58:44.786Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Would giving up her religion help Wednesday win? [...] It doesn't seem that it would make her any richer, happier, more successful - especially if she carries on living in Utah. [...] It would make her right. And that would be all it would do - if she were lucky.

When asking if she wins it would help to understand what winning means. Is the contest being right? Than she wins by being right. Is the contest not pissing your family off? Than she wins by not pissing her family off.

If "winning" is maximizing value, what does she gain by being wrong? Friends and fuzzies? If that is more useful, than so be it. The danger here is establishing some form of cognitive dissonance where everything in the back of the rationalist Wednesday's mind is screaming that Mormonism is wrong but she smiles and says she believes. I do not consider this to be useful, so I claim this is a losing scenario. If you bump into the obvious truth it is difficult to close Pandora's Box. You may want to close it, but simply pretending it is close is not a winning option.

Ironically, I personally think that some atheists do the same thing. They want to believe God does not exist but never really do. Saying that you believe something when you don't is bad. The particular belief is irrelevant.

The short summary:

  • Wednesday should not be afraid of the truth because she fears what others may do to her
  • Wednesday should not lie to herself about what she believes
  • If Wednesday looks at the evidence and considers Mormonism to be lacking she should face the crisis of faith instead of trying to ignore the evidence
  • Wednesday should ask her family and friends how they respond to the evidence. This may or may not ease tensions but it usually helps amongst reasonable, friendly people.
  • If Wednesday sees the evidence and decides to believe Mormonism, she has made her choice. If she believes the evidence and decides to try Mormonism anyway... that may be bad.

ETA:

When Wednesday has been born and has learned to read, it would be nice if there were a place for her here.

And I completely agree with this. I am not a terribly bit fan of kicking anyway out unless they are explicitly causing trouble. Someone who makes a bunch of stupid posts should get their karma hammered and will no longer post. Sounds right to me.

comment by ChrisPine · 2013-01-28T17:39:11.907Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I read this, and thought of Wednesday: "Among all American religions, Mormonism is the single most sexually guilt ridden. Mormonism scores 37%% higher in sexual guilt than even Catholics."

from here: http://www.atheismresource.com/2012/sex-god-a-new-and-fascinating-book-by-darrel-ray

I don't know how many ex-mormons you've talked to, but I've talked to quite a few, and in nearly every case we were miserable in the church, and much happier outside of it.

comment by MixedNuts · 2013-01-28T17:55:31.318Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That's purely filtering, isn't it? Anyone who isn't miserable, or doesn't expect to stop being miserable if they get out, stays in.

comment by ChrisPine · 2013-02-01T18:39:54.097Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The second part is largely a filtering effect, yes. I probably should have left that part out. But the first part was a study done on Mormons, not ex-Mormons. Extreme sexual guilt is a big part of growing up Mormon.

I've heard a number of stories of "good" Mormons getting married and finally being allowed to have sex, and... they can't do it. They can't handle it. Or they manage to, several days later, only to end up feeling horribly guilty about it, locked in the bathroom, crying...

It's not a happy religion.

comment by fubarobfusco · 2013-01-28T18:09:18.485Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

That seems to assume that people always do what would make them less miserable, even if they don't know that to be the case.

comment by Nornagest · 2013-01-28T18:26:19.036Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I wouldn't venture to speculate how much more dissatisfied with the church ex-Mormons are than average active Mormons, but I think we can expect to see a substantial difference just from identity effects.

comment by [deleted] · 2012-05-19T13:04:15.947Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

we exclude or dismiss or reflexively criticize theists who are good at partitioning

Well, yes. That heuristic tends to work, because partitioned theism is usually correlated with bleed-over into other spheres of reasoning, which can hurt people (immortal soul belief discounting cryonics thus leaving person-containing brains to rot in graves). Human partitions are never perfect, and so it is better from a mathematical standpoint to have none.

After all, we are required under pain of stupidity and becoming victims of clever fraudsters, to follow the mathematical theorems of bayesian reasoning.

comment by steven0461 · 2009-04-27T18:57:28.541Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

If everybody outside your state believed you were adopted, wouldn't that make you want to reconsider? That's one point where I don't accept the analogy.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-04-27T19:22:37.427Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Less than a quarter of all Mormons live in Utah, and less than half of them live in the United States. They're just very thick on the ground in that one location.

comment by steven0461 · 2009-04-27T19:31:52.831Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

OK, not literally everyone. Point stands, though -- you cannot rationally treat your family's beliefs as more informative than the beliefs of strangers on the other side of the planet with the same relevant characteristics.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-04-27T19:34:40.188Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Nobody except my parents has the same relevant characteristics with respect to my being adopted, and as far as the Mormons are concerned, nobody except the current Prophet (Thomas S. Monson at the moment) has the same relevant characteristics with respect to the correct beliefs about theism.

comment by steven0461 · 2009-04-27T19:44:37.910Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

nobody except the current Prophet (Thomas S. Monson at the moment) has the same relevant characteristics with respect to the correct beliefs about theism

What are they? Lots of people call themselves Prophets, claim to be divinely inspired, etc. Surely you don't believe people born in Japan should look to Monson for epistemic authority. Whether God exists and what he's like doesn't have anything to do with whether you were born in Japan or Utah, so why should your beliefs as to whether God exists and what he's like depend on whether you were born in Japan or Utah?

comment by Alicorn · 2009-04-27T19:55:04.658Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

They shouldn't, if your goal is to be right - my point is that Wednesday's goal does not necessarily have to be being right.

comment by steven0461 · 2009-04-27T20:01:58.065Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If that is your point, then I don't see what work the adoption analogy is doing.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-04-27T20:15:37.228Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I could demand a DNA test, if I valued being right about my not having been adopted over not annoying my parents/insinuating that they are liars, or over not spending money on the test. I don't have that value ordering, so I just trust them when they tell me so (and consider my other evidence adequate support, although as I mentioned, I wouldn't say I need it.)

comment by infotropism · 2009-04-27T17:25:41.753Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

In maybe 15 years of time, Wednesday comes to this place, or what this place has become by then. She is still a Mormon, and is welcomed. She is interested in participating, because she is open minded enough, educated, and the community is tolerant and helpful. So she gets to learn about rationality, and is taken into the process of becoming a rationalist herself, and a productive, healthy member of the rationalist community.

My question : and after a few months or years of that, does she still remain a Mormon, or a believer in the supernatural ?

If yes, how does she reconcile that with the fact that a few of the priors behind religions are wrong ? That religion requires self deception to work, at some level ? Will there be some projects in which she won't be able to participate, simply because they are at odds with those beliefs ?

If not, then how does she reconcile that with her past life ? How will it impact her already established relationships ? How easy or difficult will it be for her to change her mind ?

comment by CCC · 2013-01-31T06:47:52.972Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

When Wednesday has been born and has learned to read, it would be nice if there were a place for her here.

Well, I'm not Mormon (and not called Wednesday), but I'm not atheist either. I've never felt particularly unwelcome here. So I think that there is a place for Wednesday.

comment by jooyous · 2013-01-31T07:30:07.373Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

When Wednesday has been born and has learned to read, it would be nice if there were a place for her here.

Maybe there are implementable and surveyable things we can do to become more welcoming?

comment by CCC · 2013-01-31T08:30:15.750Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Maybe there are implementable and surveyable things we can do to become more welcoming?

From my point of view, one of the best ways to be welcoming is simply to be polite. It's simple but extremely effective. A second, simple method is to avoid the use of sarcasm; in a pure-text medium, it will almost always be misinterpreted as sincere by someone.

Add in a good understanding of the halo effect and how to avoid bias on that count and I think you're halfway there. The other half relies on the visitor; for best results, the visitor should operate under the same constraints of politeness, avoiding sarcasm, and avoiding halo-effect bias.

That's my view, anyhow. I'm not quite sure how best to survey these, although they do seem to be fairly widely implemented already.

comment by jooyous · 2013-01-31T08:47:59.471Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I agree with most of those, but I'm not convinced that's the best we can do? For example, it's not quite the same thing to be polite as it is to be effusively welcoming (I was just reading this article and I believe religious groups are extremely good at that that initial meeting where they really effusively offer to help you out with everything) which also is difficult to do in a text medium. (I feel like I use the most exclamation marks out of anyone here!) Feeling like people are tolerating you is different than feeling like they like you and want you around. =]

I also think politeness is not quite enough to handle frustration, which may mess up otherwise productive discussions. For example, when someone offers interesting counter-arguments, I usually don't have a problem thinking about them pretty calmly. But I've found people will frequently talk past each other? Like someone will say a lot of correct things that I agree with that, but that don't really address my initial concern -- which is pretty frustrating and causes me to make less sense when replying to them. Maybe adding some kind of handshake culture where we have a "Do I understand that you are saying (paraphrase)?" before we start discussing something would help with that issue? This would be consistent with making sure we understand the problem before offering solutions. And maybe we could mark different threads with different levels of these handshake requirements? Something! But also just generally writing in a style that takes into account that the person we're engaging ... might be frustrated.

comment by CCC · 2013-01-31T09:50:00.571Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

For example, it's not quite the same thing to be polite as it is to be effusively welcoming

But would that be better? If one is too effusively welcoming, that might be seen as creepy and chase people away.

Now, the optimal strategy would be one that creates a true impression that one is liked, and that others would like one to remain around. (If someone is not liked, then the optimal strategy, assuming infinite resources and time, would be to persuade them to become more likeable). The question, then, is what strategy creates that impression?

I think that the karma system does a part of that; it allows a visitor to find out which behaviours are appreciated and which are not in a simple and straightforward way.


I also think politeness is not quite enough to handle frustration, which may mess up otherwise productive discussions. For example, when someone offers interesting counter-arguments, I usually don't have a problem thinking about them pretty calmly. But I've found people will frequently talk past each other?

Ah; I think that this is, strictly speaking, a seperate issue; the issue of clear communication. Paraphrasing the other person's argument is, I've found, often a helpful way of dealing with such a situation; so the handshake that you propose is a valid solution. However, the already-present meme of tabooing certain words seems to me to have the same, if not greater, benefits.

A certain degree of empathy - by which I mean, understanding what the other person is thinking - is also a useful skill to develop for this sort of situation.

comment by jooyous · 2013-02-01T19:19:30.165Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Ooh, here's another community practice that would be nice to adopt: after you have a long comment thread with someone where you clarify some stuff, if they said "oh okay, now I undstand!" instead of just disappearing when they understand, it would feel much better. That's happened to me a few times here. =\

comment by Qiaochu_Yuan · 2013-02-01T19:26:06.632Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If they disappear, how do you know it's because they understand and not because they don't understand and don't care anymore?

comment by jooyous · 2013-02-01T19:37:00.595Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That's exactly the problem! There's currently no way to tell, although it would be useful to know. It would be nice if disappearing consistently indicated not caring anymore so you could gauge how effective you are at clarifying things.

comment by CCC · 2013-02-02T19:03:23.904Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I quite see your point, and I agree. That would be useful data. While some may simply upvote the post that made them understand instead of replying, I don't think that that would be sufficient; neither the identity of the upvoter nor the reason for the upvote would be readily apparent.

comment by jooyous · 2013-01-31T10:17:35.804Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Now, the optimal strategy would be one that creates a true impression that one is liked, and that others would like one to remain around. (If someone is not liked, then the optimal strategy, assuming infinite resources and time, would be to persuade them to become more likeable). The question, then, is what strategy creates that impression?

I think the practice of chewing apart someone's religion is pretty emotionally trying and leaves the person feeling like the community hates their entire being/identity, despite their generally polite and civil tone, and the top level article is about acknowledging and repairing emotional damage after exchanges like this. So, some sort of active statement of "I still like you! You are still cool! Thank you for the nice discussion! Would you like to also talk about this here math thing? I would love to know what you think!" would hopefully make chewed-apart people (Wednesday?) feel much better about hanging around here.

Actually, I think the "I still like you!" issue is pretty similar to the sarcasm issue in written word. Because IRL you can use subtle clues to show you still like the person, like smile and speak softer after you're done debating god and things. Or pat them! Here, all I've got is exclamation marks. And text emoticons?

comment by CCC · 2013-01-31T12:33:46.100Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I think the practice of chewing apart someone's religion is pretty emotionally trying and leaves the person feeling like the community hates their entire being/identity,

Yes, it would be. In my experience, I haven't felt that my religion has been chewed apart; by and large, most people on the site seem to shrug and ignore it. So this situation hasn't yet turned up here for me.

Though you are right; such a sentiment would go a long way towards repairing emotional damage. Actively pointing out and encouraging behaviour that you like is a good way to get people to behave that way more often. I think that's most of the reason for the karma system; to upvote posts encourages similar behaviour in the future. Replying, with specific reasons for an upvote, encourages a more specific behaviour (and upvoting the encouraging post will probably reinforce the enouragement).

In person, I'm told that eye contact and attentive listening work surprisingly well.

comment by byrnema · 2009-04-27T21:13:25.019Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Wednesday will also be regularly informed that several of these people are in a position to have special knowledge on the subject via direct prayer-derived evidence

I don't think we can fault Wednesday for not challenging the anecdotal evidence of God if it hasn't occurred to her to do so. She might not be very interested in religion, and, having no desire to think deeply on the subject, is willing to take their word for it. In fact, she may really be agnostic about religion, and is a prime candidate for conversion.

It is when she is faced with evidence that God does not exist and still persists in her belief that she is irrational. She may choose to continue believing in her religion for many really good reasons X,Y,Z, but the bottom line is that those reasons are more important to her than the truth. So she's not rational in the sense of a person trying to optimally base decisions on the truth (the whole truth). She would rather have her decisions based on her societal norms, for the reasons X, Y, Z.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-04-28T02:36:26.913Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

It is my suspicion that "agnostic" may be too generous a word for someone who accepts a convenient religion because she doesn't care. "Apatheist"?

comment by byrnema · 2009-04-28T04:16:54.781Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Do you dislike this version of Wednesday?

Certain words ("too generous", "convenient", "doesn't care") make me feel like you're angry with her.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-04-28T04:35:51.558Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Hmm. I hadn't been aware of disliking this version. However, I do have a general dislike of thoughtless (by which I just mean not thinking very much, not "inconsiderate") people. And that combines with the unease I have with the idea of a future in which her parents have - by their own lights - failed to parent her well enough; I have enough empathy with my friend to be disturbed by such a scenario, even though by certain standards of course I think some such situations would be an improvement. It's possible one or both of those emotional reactions was conveyed in my word choice.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2009-04-27T18:05:24.519Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Wednesday is wrong. Yet it might well be better for an average Wednesday to remain religious.

The costs associated with remaining religious depend on how you'd live your life otherwise, on whether you'd realistically find something better to do with your attention and caring. In a perfect world, deconversion will always be worthwhile. Given the real-world overhead and apathy/blindness to opening opportunities, it may not be.

comment by HughRistik · 2009-04-27T17:56:18.206Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The case of Wednesday an excellent example of why I argued that religious belief can be perfectly sane.

Is it really essential that, as a community, we exclude or dismiss or reflexively criticize theists who are good at partitioning, who like and are good at rational reasoning in every other sphere - and who just have higher priorities than being right?

I think many theists criticized are not quite as immersed as Wednesday will be. Believing what you thinking is right doesn't require going out and alienating all your friends with it (though I've had some pretty heated discussions with friends). I agree that being a closet atheist in Wednesday's case would be very hard, but it might not be so hard for other theists.

The way I understand rationality is that at least cognitively, there is no higher priority than being right. For various reasons, such as those that you observe in this post, this ideal is difficult for humans to achieve. Consequently, rationality is better seen as a virtue that humans embody on a continuum (though there may be qualitative and categorical differences at some points on that continuum, such as engaging in a certain logical fallacy vs. not engaging in it, or whether you question the views of people on your "side," ever).

When Wednesday has been born and has learned to read, it would be nice if there were a place for her here.

I hope there is a place here for anyone interested in rational discourse, regardless of whether 100% of their beliefs are rational. There are many other other failures of rationality besides theism. Anyone coming here holding ideological beliefs (whether theistic or not) should not be surprised when those beliefs are met with skepticism, however.

comment by steven0461 · 2009-04-27T17:15:49.219Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Almost everyone who thinks he or she has higher priorities than being right actually does not have higher priorities than being right, but doesn't place enough priority on being right to see that this is the case. This is why we should avoid the "rationalists should win" mantra -- figuring out what "winning" means is at least as essential as actually winning.

I reject out of hand the idea that she should deconvert in the closet and systematically lie to everyone she knows.

Rejecting options out of hand is bad, especially when the alternatives suck.

comment by MrHen · 2009-04-27T18:19:12.150Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Almost everyone who thinks he or she has higher priorities than being right actually does not have higher priorities than being right, but doesn't place enough priority on being right to see that this is the case.

After parsing this, I think you are saying:

  1. Many people who think they have higher priorities than being right
  2. Do not have higher priorities than being right
  3. But do not know they do not have higher priorities than being right
  4. Because they do not have a high enough priorities with regards to being right

So, replacing "priorities" with "X" and "being right" with "Y" we get this:

  1. Many people who think they have higher X than Y
  2. Do not have higher X than Y
  3. But do not know they do not have higher X than Y
  4. Because they do not have a high enough X with regards to Y

Which is a very mean and uncharitable way of saying I do not know what you mean. I think my difficulty is that I rank priorities against themselves. To me, Priority of 55 makes no sense. Fifty-fifth Priority does. Bumping priority up means replacing a higher rank with a lower rank. If something has no higher priority is is First Priority. With these definitions, your statement makes no sense because (2) and (4) are incompatible.

comment by steven0461 · 2009-04-27T18:28:45.418Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

OK, I can see how that was unclear, but I stand by the statement. Figuring out what one's true goals are is itself a problem that one can apply rationality to. Many people think applying rationality doesn't help achieve their goals well enough to be worth the costs. But they're wrong: rationality helps achieve their true goals well enough to be worth the costs. If they applied rationality enough, they'd find out that their true goals aren't what they thought they were, and conclude that applying rationality was indeed worth it.

An irrational person cannot reliably assess the cost of being irrational. A rational person can. People who have chosen rationality almost always agree choosing rationality was worth it.

Red and blue box, one of them contains a diamond. Wednesday asks, "how would this "rationality" thing help me get to the red box, which contains the diamond?" But the diamond is in the blue box.

comment by conchis · 2009-04-27T20:39:34.014Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

An irrational person cannot reliably assess the cost of being irrational. A rational person can.

Yes, a fully rational person is better able to assess the relative costs of being irrational vs. rational. But this knowledge won't help them much if it turns out that the costs of being irrational were lower after all.

comment by MrHen · 2009-04-27T19:02:37.807Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, that makes more sense. I think there is a danger in telling someone they do not know what they really want or what their true goals are, but I understand your point and agree.

comment by Nick_Tarleton · 2009-04-27T19:09:20.798Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I don't think the danger is in saying that another doesn't know their true goals so much as in thinking that you do know them.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2009-04-27T17:32:01.691Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Almost everyone who thinks he or she has higher priorities than being right actually does not have higher priorities than being right, but doesn't place enough priority on being right to see that this is the case. This is why we should avoid the "rationalists should win" mantra -- figuring out what "winning" means is at least as essential as actually winning.

That's open to interpretation. The procedure by which you are figuring out what " winning " means is itself a rational pursuit, that should better be precisely targeted, with " winning' " in that meta-game already fixed. You have to stop somewhere, and actually write the code.

comment by steven0461 · 2009-04-27T18:42:48.274Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

You do indeed have to stop somewhere, but any algorithm that stops before rejecting everything that's at least one tenth as wrong as Mormonism is broken.

comment by Vladimir_Nesov · 2009-04-27T20:17:19.678Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Huh? The algorithm doesn't stop, the meta-meta-goal has to be fixed at some point.

comment by Alicorn · 2009-04-27T17:22:20.081Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Almost everyone who thinks he or she has higher priorities than being right actually does not have higher priorities than being right, but doesn't place enough priority on being right to see that this is the case.

Can you help me disentangle what you mean by this? There seems to be some equivocation.

Rejecting options out of hand is bad, especially when the alternatives suck.

I rejected that option for ethical reasons. The alternatives do suck, but "carry on believing as always" and "deconvert, then tell an uncomfortable truth" are at least not unethical.

comment by steven0461 · 2009-04-27T18:37:04.167Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

For clarification, see my reply to MrHen.

The alternatives do suck, but "carry on believing as always" and "deconvert, then tell an uncomfortable truth" are at least not unethical.

Choosing to believe falsely and then speaking honestly is at least as unethical as choosing to believe truly and then lying. The former amounts to lying and then committing the further ethical crime of believing one's own lies.

comment by ChristianKl · 2013-10-18T16:26:09.201Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

When Wednesday has been born and has learned to read, it would be nice if there were a place for her here.

Maybe we should add an option to the next censur that asks whether people feel welcome to know whether the theists that exist on lesswrong actually feel unwelcome?

comment by TimFreeman · 2011-06-06T22:17:19.228Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I reject out of hand the idea that she should deconvert in the closet and systematically lie to everyone she knows.

I tend to agree with you, but I'm curious: Why do you say that?

I think she shouldn't lie to everyone because it's hard to do and she's better off leaving town or maybe just not lying, depending on how Mormons treat non-Mormons in their midst. In Pennebaker's "Opening Up", he does a reasonably good job of demonstrating that systematic inhibition like that has negative health consequences.

comment by JamesAndrix · 2009-09-19T22:04:19.433Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Let's say we live in a world where it is not clear who is adopted and who is not. Most believe a Billion or less are non-adopted, and that they themselves are non-adopted. A few say everyone is non-adopted, some say being non-adopted isn't even possible.

If you believe just 13 million* people worldwide are non-adopted, you need good evidence to believe you happen to be one of them.

Believing you're not adopted based on little evidence makes perfect sense if you're in a world where the vast majority of people are not adopted (or know they are)

*13 million=LDS membership (wikipedia)

comment by badger · 2009-04-27T21:13:56.541Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

As an ex-Mormon, I had to personally confront this issue. My family, extended family, friends, neighbors, and the large majority of my hometown are Mormon, so the social costs of leaving my church were extremely high. While in high school, I was primarily in the closet, but I'd express the occasional doubt. Just the suggestion that the church could be tested against evidence resulted in people avoiding conversation with me, my now-wife being warned by mutual friends not to date me, and my parents sternly lecturing me. Note this was merely because I considered the possibility of contrary evidence, not a public expression of disbelief.

In the counterfactual world where I chose not to explore the veracity of religion, my high school years would have been significantly happier, I would have avoided prolonged conflict with my family, I would have served a two-year religious mission, and I would likely be attending BYU right now. In some ways, it does genuinely feel like this would have been better, but I can say with confidence that I made the right choice.

I could easily pick out reasons why someone shouldn't remain Mormon specifically, but I want to engage the least convenient world for why we shouldn't knowingly believe something false. Being a theist might not affect the quality of someone's everyday life much, so there is not an apparent gain from a belief in the truth. But similarly, beliefs about the moon landing, Santa, evolution, heliocentricism, etc rarely influence someone's everyday life. The problem is that once you allow exceptions to seeking evidence, allowing your beliefs to be influenced by evidence, and not starting with a bottom line, the exceptions start bleeding over into beliefs that do affect success. I don't think this slippery slope is inevitable, but if you want to win, you can't trust partitions*.

I absolutely agree that if Wednesday came to our community interested and enthusiastic, we should welcome her with open arms. Nevertheless, I would encourage her to break down any mental partitions she might have, otherwise simply note that theism is not up for discussion in the context of this site.

* This is particularly true of Mormon culture where "I prayed about it, and felt the Spirit tell me it is right" can trump any other argument.

comment by Aurini · 2009-04-27T20:35:47.581Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm reminded of the post a while back on whether an Atheist/Rationalist society would be effective in war.

I have trouble understanding why they wouldn't be (which seems to be the opinion of most of the others here). In an objective moral sense, if Truth doesn't matter more than Winning, then what does? Implicitly most here behave in accordance to that statement - I'd suggest that the amount of time devoted to this site exceeds the amount required for merely winning in contemporary society - but most seem to balk at the concept that Truth might require the sacrifice of life.

Maybe it's scope insensitivity. Risking 1 utilon for 10 utilons (at fifty/fifty odds) is a gamble everyone here would take - but when the risk is 1000 utilons for 10 000 utilons, even though it's the same gamble, it's harder to see it as such (this being the major pause which Yudkowki's dust-mote vs torture analogy brought out).

If we are, in fact, advocating Truth over mere Winning, there are going to be casualties along the way; in concrete terms, if my goal is an equal and just society, then I will be called upon to intervene in any gay-bashings I witness, at the risk of my own life.

So yes, the Atheist/Rationalist society - assuming they have that meta level of moral awareness - will go to war and be more viciously stalwart than any religious group could possibly hope to be. And if Wednesday must choose between Truth and Winning - as long as she isn't a lecherous societal leech, concerned only with besting her opponents, rules be damned - she'll choose the former, regardless of the expense to herself.

comment by Z_M_Davis · 2009-04-27T20:59:40.866Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Risking 1 utilon for 10 utilons (at fifty/fifty odds) is a gamble everyone here would take - but when the risk is 1000 utilons for 10 000 utilons, even though it's the same gamble, it's harder to see it as such

I think the standard reply here is that utilons (or utils, or whatever your favored terminology for this) is a standardized measure of whatever-it-is-you-care-about. You might not want to risk 1000 (say) dollars for even odds of 10 000 dollars--that all depends on your personal marginal utility of money. But if you don't think you'd want to risk 1000 utilons for 10 000 utilons at even odds, that just means you're defining utilons incorrectly. By definition, if I understand.

comment by orthonormal · 2009-04-27T23:31:39.661Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

IAWYC, but I don't think Aurini was necessarily making that mistake.

I read their comment as stating that, even when their "shut up and multiply" answer would or should be the same, people are wired to behave differently towards gambles when the stakes are higher. Not that they should, but that they do.

For example, my conscious dollars-to-utility function is nearly linear in small increments from my present position; if I had a 1-in-5 chance of turning $10 into $100, I'd go for it. However, my conscious (lives saved)-to-utility function is practically linear in small populations; but if I had a chance to gamble 10 lives against 100 at 1-in-5 odds, it would be psychologically more difficult to make the clearly correct choice. Or any choice at all; decisive paralysis is a probable actual outcome.

There are sensible evolutionary reasons for this to be the case, but it raises the question of what to do about it for people in positions of power.

comment by Aurini · 2009-04-28T05:38:35.151Z · score: -4 (6 votes) · LW · GW

On a deeper level, I'm suggesting that we over-estimate the utilon-level of own lives. Personally, I think your average North American thinks their own life far more valuable than it actually is.

Honestly, I really can't pint to factual evidence when it comes to 'the value of human life.' - but back in University, I honestly thought that Latin was a more accurate representation of human-life value than Christian English was - and at the present day, knowledge of transhumanism seems to justify it.

We are expendable: truth and justice matter.

comment by badger · 2009-04-28T07:09:25.155Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I honestly thought that Latin was a more accurate representation of human-life value than Christian English was - and at the present day, knowledge of transhumanism seems to justify it.

I can't parse this. What does Latin or English have to do with the value of life? The ways the concept is expressed in the two languages? What does transhumanism have to say about Latin?

comment by Sticky · 2010-05-06T23:03:39.640Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I would argue that people actually take the larger gamble when they enter romantic relationships, certainly when they get married, and probably with some other decisions like that.

comment by JohnH · 2011-04-20T20:02:01.307Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Wednesday will be informed that not only several but everyone in the entire world is in a position to have special knowledge on the subject via direct prayer-derived experience. She will also be informed to seek out these experiences for herself as ones persons experiences can not be applied to another person. Further those experiences should not be a general feeling of good-will, feeling at one with the universe, strong emotions, uncontrollable crying, etc. as those are not the characteristics of the spirit per LDS doctrine (or dogma if you insist). Instead the experience, whether it includes visions or just the still small voice of the spirit should provide her with knowledge that she could not other wise obtain that is actionable and if testable turn out to be correct as well as making sense. Not everything is testable as we are not able to go back and make a different decision to see what would have happened. As a desire to believe is sufficient to be baptized she will most likely be baptized even if she has not actually had such experiences, but if she takes her religion seriously (which hopefully she should) then she will seek such experiences and from my own experience she will receive them if she does so in the correct manner (being actually wanting an answer and willing to follow whatever the answer is, assuming the answer fits the criteria of what is an actual answer and what is not.

Further if Wednesday's parents are familiar with the doctrine enough then they should welcome you or anyone else that has a different view of the world in to present that view to them and Wednesday. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints claims to deal in truth wherever it is to be found so if you have some truth they should welcome it and if you have falsehoods then they should be easy enough to correct. Further, if her and her parents take the doctrine seriously they should not make fun of you for doing so, though they may present their beliefs and reasoning’s for them to you. As per one of the central tenets: “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may. “ -Articles of Faith, 11

Further if her parents understand their religion they should not shun or ostracize her should she decide not continue to be a saint. Please be aware that not everyone understands this with in the LDS church, we do not claim to be perfect people but to be people seeking perfection.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2011-04-20T20:32:10.103Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Further those experiences should not be a general feeling of good-will, feeling at one with the universe, strong emotions, uncontrollable crying, etc. as those are not the characteristics of the spirit per LDS doctrine (or dogma if you insist). Instead the experience, whether it includes visions or just the still small voice of the spirit should provide her with knowledge that she could not other wise obtain that is actionable and if testable turn out to be correct as well as making sense. Not everything is testable as we are not able to go back and make a different decision to see what would have happened. As a desire to believe is sufficient to be baptized she will most likely be baptized even if she has not actually had such experiences, but if she takes her religion seriously (which hopefully she should) then she will seek such experiences and from my own experience she will receive them if she does so in the correct manner (being actually wanting an answer and willing to follow whatever the answer is, assuming the answer fits the criteria of what is an actual answer and what is not.

There a lot of problems with this. Confirmation bias is a major one (people are likely to remember the times that their perceived/claimed revelations turned out to be correct and not think as much about the misses), as is the fact that people do engage in unconscious processing.

Personally, I've had dreams where I've talked to dead mathematicians. They've been helpful. Does that mean one should believe that I was talking to those spirits? Or, more relevantly for this purpose, do you think that Ramanujan's beliefs that his math came from Hindu deities were justified given the correct, novel mathematical results he received?

Moreover, when Mormons do speak of personal revelation, they aren't almost ever testable claims (e.g. will this coin flip land heads or tails), but personal life advice issues, just like in many other religions, making it essentially impossible to tell if the revelation was at all helpful.

This also is connected to the fairly serious problem that if the LDS church wants to be tested based on its capacity for correct revelation, one needs to deal with both the fact that the revealed claimed in the LDS texts (such as the claimed ancient civilizations) don't fit with archeology at all.

Further if her parents understand their religion they should not shun or ostracize her should she decide not continue to be a saint. Please be aware that not everyone understands this with in the LDS church, we do not claim to be perfect people but to be people seeking perfection.

Except that shunning isn't just something that is done by some members of the LDS. It is a practice that is so common that separate communities have been built for such individuals (The LDS church is not the only example of such, Charedi(ultra-Orthodox Jews) have the same thing but that's not what is relevant here.)

You may want to be aware that in general, at Less Wrong, we aren't terribly interested in LDS apologetics or apologetics from any other religion. As far as we're concerned almost all traditional notions of deities have very low probabilities, and general apologetica is unlikely to do much. There are forums to discuss that sort of thing; we are not one of them. In the case of the Wednesday post, the point had very little to do with Mormonism, but was using that example to point out a general possible problem in a certain common heuristic. Trying to argue that Wednesday would have other reasons to believe in Mormonism is both not compelling and misses the point of Alicorn's post.

comment by CuSithBell · 2011-04-20T20:40:41.709Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

It sounds like you're saying you've received testable knowledge you couldn't otherwise have received in this manner. Would you mind expanding on that?

comment by JohnH · 2011-04-20T23:12:34.297Z · score: -2 (8 votes) · LW · GW

Miracles do not follow belief but follow those that believe. Having read a fair number of articles on this site, I know the kind of dismissal to expect should I share any specific experience of mine. As these are sacred to me, I consider it not prudent to share them in a place where I know they'll be ridiculed.

However, I know that everyone that is willing may themselves have such experiences. I know that God is real, Jesus is the Christ, Joseph Smith was a Prophet, and Thomas S. Monson is a Prophet. I know that if anyone follows the steps laid out in Moroni 10:3-5 (see also Alma 32, James 1:3-5) they can for themselves gain such knowledge.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2011-04-21T00:12:48.205Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Miracles do not follow belief but follow those that believe. Having read a fair number of articles on this site, I know the kind of dismissal to expect should I share any specific experience of mine. As these are sacred to me, I consider it not prudent to share them in a place where I know they'll be ridiculed.

Question: If a chassidic Jew came in here and said the same thing about miracles he saw his Rebbe perform, would you take his miracles with the same level of credence that you assign your own? If not, why not?

comment by JohnH · 2011-04-21T01:09:24.776Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

A complete answer of this would require a fairly detailed look at the LDS view of faith. To be short there are many multiples of ways that miracles may occur. Miracles do not by themselves produce faith in anything as the chassidic Jew should know. ( per Egypt not being converted and the unfaithfulness of the children of Israel in the wilderness despite the miracles that were performed (at some point daily) in their behalf). The existence of a miracle does not by itself say anything about a belief system.

"And that he manifesteth himself unto all those who believe in him, by the power of the Holy Ghost; yea, unto every nation, kindred, tongue, and people, working mighty miracles, signs, and wonders, among the children of men according to their faith." - 2 Nephi 26:13

You might want to look more at the topic of LDS and their view of Jews (see Orson Hyde's dedication of Jerusalem for the gathering of the Jews in 1842, as well as Deuteronomy, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and most other prophets in all of LDS scripture).

Interesting question for someone that isn't interested in apologetics.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2011-04-21T01:17:58.187Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

I'm sorry if the example of a chassidic Jew created more theological complications than intended. The point was a member of another religion. If it helps, imagine a religion completely orthogonal to anything in the Abrahamic tradition, like say Hinduism. Do you treat your own perceived miracles as different from those of the Hindu? If so, why are they different?

Interesting question for someone that isn't interested in apologetics.

I am not the general LW community. I consider apologetics to be very interesting. But LW has a general established set of goals and attitudes about these things, so I will focus here purely on the basic issues related to epistemological and rationalist considerations. Hence the focus on how you would respond to other religions making fundamentally similar claims. And I'll only do so as long as there's not a feeling that our discussion is damaging the signal to noise ratio. I will however recommend that you read the Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions sequence (it is admittedly rather long).

comment by JohnH · 2011-04-21T17:08:23.007Z · score: -3 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Faith is a principle of action as well as power. The first part of my response still holds. Even the scripture in part still holds, the Holy Ghost testifies of truth wherever it is to be found. So miracles are not a basis for belief but arise out of belief. Further there are other supernatural entities that can be a part of miracles besides God.

I have read a fair number of those, somehow I hadn't stumbled on the whole sequence, thank you for the link.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2011-04-22T01:29:22.282Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

That doesn't answer the question in any useful way.

So miracles are not a basis for belief but arise out of belief.

I'm not sure what this means. If miracles are not part of the basis for belief why do you think that Wednesday can use them as part of the justification for her faith?

Further there are other supernatural entities that can be a part of miracles besides God.

And if someone performs miracles and says that Mormon deity isn't real or is actually an evil entity, how would you respond?

comment by JohnH · 2011-04-22T01:44:19.428Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I didn't say Wednesday could use miracles but could use the Holy Spirit (which might be considered miraculous).

"And if someone performs miracles and says that Mormon deity isn't real or is actually an evil entity, how would you respond?"

Having actually dealt with this claim before I can point to "by their fruits ye shall know them" with the rest of that chapter. As well as "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself". As well as "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith". I also would say pretty much what I have already said.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2011-04-22T01:52:08.233Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I didn't say Wednesday could use miracles but could use the Holy Spirit (which might be considered miraculous).

The same point applies. I don't care whether one calls it "miracles" or "special knowledge"- the essential point applies. If someone else had access to the essentially the same claimed experiences how would you respond?

Having actually dealt with this claim before I can point to "by their fruits ye shall know them" with the rest of that chapter. As well as "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself". As well as "But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith".

I see. And if the other individual has his own set of contradictory scriptures, how do you decide that your set is better than his set?

comment by JohnH · 2011-04-22T03:09:05.885Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

If someone else had access to the essentially the same claimed experiences how would you respond?

The belief is that the Holy Spirit will not lie and will tell the same truth to everyone. So I would need to know specifically what was claimed, what knowledge was received, and if there actually is a contradiction.

If the person claims to have contradictory experiences to me yet everything else still matches then I would ask if their experience is reproducible. That is, my claim is that there is a specific procedure to receive revelation so I would want to know what theirs was. If there is none then I would be willing to dismiss the claim as someone that was aware of my faith attempting to deceive me. If there was one and it involved morally objectionable actions then I would chalk up the claim to a different entity, if the claim involved mind altering drugs I would chalk it up to the drugs.

If the procedure did not involve something morally objectionable then I would be willing to test it out. If an apparently contradictory answer was received I would then attempt to receive further revelation from both sources, specifically asking what was happening. In particular I would attempt to find some specific life action that is different between the sources of revelation and then see what the effects of following or not following that action are in other people. If either is obviously bad then I would know which one I don't want to follow. If there is no obvious ill effect to either then I would ask each which one I should follow and see if there was a consensus. If both forms do agree as to which I should follow then that is the one I would follow and I would hope that an explanation could be had on the other source.

If there is no agreement and no way for me to determine if either is lying then I would go see a doctor to see if something is off with me. If there is and some method of fixing the problem is given I would then repeat both procedure to see which still responds. If they both still respond or if I am determined to be fine then I would decide at that point what to do, either continue following the one I have been and hope for the best or become a deist try not to violate anything of either and hope for the best.

Hopefully that answers the question. I do not anticipate running into anything past the first line of the third paragraph, being testing out the other procedure. Given that I answered poorly by using previous experiences I have tried not to let my own experiences on this subject influence my answer. Generally evangelicals will tell me to read the bible and pray about it, something that is completely consistent with my own beliefs and somewhat confusing given I have read the bible many times and prayed about it many times, I know it to be true.

if the other individual has his own set of contradictory scriptures, how do you decide that your set is better than his set?

First, I would read their scriptures to see what is said. If there is an internal contradiction I would ask for an explanation of said internal contradiction. That is in my experience as far as it has ever gotten, but we are dealing in hypotheticals here so I will continue. If the individual is still willing to talk with me and explain the apparent contradiction I would ask how can I know that their scripture is true. See above for the rest of the response.

comment by CuSithBell · 2011-04-21T00:05:14.338Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Okay. Could you instead share why exactly you think your experiences would be dismissed, and why you think these reasons are incorrect?

comment by JohnH · 2011-04-21T04:51:29.727Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

See JoshuaZ's comment below for exactly why I think my experiences would be dismissed.

comment by CuSithBell · 2011-04-21T08:38:24.935Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

He seems to be asking why your miracles count as evidence for your faith when other people have similar experiences deriving from contradictory faiths.

However, it seems like you're saying that these miracles don't count as evidence for any faith, including your own (except in a strict Bayesian sense, I guess). Is that accurate?

My question was different - it was about the nature of these miracles in themselves, not their relationship to a faith. If you're able to extract information from miraculous sources, I'd be very interested in your methods (especially as they are intended to be reproducible). Could you demonstrate this?

Alternately, if you still think a demonstration would be dismissed, could you explain on what grounds it would be dismissed and why one would be incorrect to do so? (Or, alternately, whether you believe that we would be correct to dismiss your claims due to some sort of information disparity - though this seems an unlikely position.)

Alternately-alternately, when you say that "if anyone follows the steps laid out in Moroni 10:3-5 (see also Alma 32, James 1:3-5) they can for themselves gain such knowledge", that seems to imply I could try it myself and validate your claim. Is that your understanding?

comment by JohnH · 2011-04-21T16:44:44.324Z · score: -3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

I think you looked at the above comment, not the below one.

You are basically accurate in saying miracles don't count as evidence of any faith, by themselves. The Spirit is a nescessary condition for determining what faith is right. (faith in this post is a collection of beliefs, faith in the other post is action, or trust, in beliefs) In as much as the Spirit is miraculus I should amend the statement to outward miracles do not, by themselves, count as evidence of anything, they merely indicate that more information is needed.

It is only reasonable that I trust my own experiences. It is also reasonable that I validate my exeriences by keeping a journal of those experiences and periodically reviewing what was recieved and what happened afterwards. This should cut down on the confirmation bias.

My experiences are valid for me, but for anyone else they are point of data that like a miracle doesn't provide sufficient evidence for anything as there are mutliple competing claims. Throwing out evidence you disagree with or that you think is a black-swan event is not a halmark of rationality. However as they can be viewed as low probability events and there could be errors in reasoning, errors in observation, and errors in transmission of those observations means that your model of the world should not be updated unless you yourself can replicate the events.

The method of how to recieve a response is in the scriptures cited. The response should be in both your mind and in your heart. You can try it yourself and validate my claims. Realize though that you are dealing with an entity that is both intelligent and has your best interest in mind, see Alma 32:17-20 for more on that subject.

comment by CuSithBell · 2011-04-22T06:57:12.933Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

So I take it you're not willing to demonstrate this ability? Say, by predicting what I've written on an index card (or whatever similar sort of verifiable prediction you're able to access)?

If that's the case, then I could certainly try to do so. Could you help me figure out what precisely I have to do such that you will predict success? The language of the text seems a little opaque. For others' convenience, I'll repost them here:

Moroni 10 3 Behold, I would exhort you that when ye shall read these things, if it be wisdom in God that ye should read them, that ye would remember how merciful the Lord hath been unto the children of men, from the creation of Adam even down until the time that ye shall receive these things, and ponder it in your hearts. 4 And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. 5 And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.

So it sounds like what I have to do is simply ask honestly for a sign of some verifiable sort? Or do I ask for more specific knowledge?

comment by JohnH · 2011-04-22T14:44:44.977Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Already covered this:

"Yea, there are many who do say: If thou wilt show unto us a sign from heaven, then we shall know of a surety; then we shall believe.

18Now I ask, is this faith? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for if a man knoweth a thing he hath no cause to believe, for he knoweth it.

19And now, how much more cursed is he that knoweth the will of God and doeth it not, than he that only believeth, or only hath cause to believe, and falleth into transgression?" Alma 32:17-19

Further, "An adulterous generation asks for a sign" which should itself be sign enough.

Or do I ask for more specific knowledge?

Yes. See also D&C 9:7-9 which gives a further example, though it is for translating sacred text so while the method of asking is the same the method of response may not be.

Also, you may want to define what you mean by honestly. Honestly being curious as to what will happen is not sufficient if it does not also include a real intention to follow God's commands if a response is received. You cannot fool God and He isn't a wish granting genie.

comment by CuSithBell · 2011-04-22T15:50:58.119Z · score: 5 (5 votes) · LW · GW

Essentially what I'm asking for is a reason to believe it. That could include accurate predictions about things regarding which I have no relevant knowledge. It does not include reports that such things are possible and have happened but cannot be produced right now, and it does not include the fact that I am asking for a reason.

I am willing to ask, in humility, for such a reason, from anything that can hear my inner thoughts directly so as to be able to respond. If there is a God that can do so, and belief is in my best interests, and that God has my best interests in mind, then it follows that I should be presented with something convincing to me. If I actually discovered that, say, there is an afterlife and an eternity of reward or punishments depends on one's mental state, I'd seriously consider proselytizing (though in a different manner from most proselytizers). If I discovered that some notion of objective good was not only coherent but obtained in our world, I'd probably alter my behavior drastically. Certainly, I think the prior probability of any specific organized religion being true is infinitesimal (and would in most cases I'd first have to be convinced that it's logically consistent), and a particular religious experience of nonspecific fuzzies would cause me to question my sanity first, but if I had a coherent religious experience that held up on future observation, and provided real reasons to alter my beliefs, I'd do it in an instant.

We do not disbelieve because we have seen even the slightest hint that it is true but we wish to rebel or disobey. We disbelieve because there is absolutely no reason to believe.

I have in fact actually tried this in a different context, and managed to produce an altered mental state, but saw no evidence of the supernatural, nor even a subjective 'experience of the divine'.

But it sounds like, when you imagine someone actually trying what you said would work for anyone, your mind jumps to reasons why it won't work, rather than expectations that it will.

comment by JohnH · 2011-05-07T07:17:16.963Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Recent discussion brought up another one.

D&C 93:30

"All truth is independent in that sphere in which God has placed it to act for itself, as all intelligence also; Otherwise there is no existence. 31. Behold, here is the agency of man"

comment by JohnH · 2011-04-22T18:23:03.521Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

when you imagine someone actually trying what you said would work for anyone, your mind jumps to reasons why it won't work, rather than expectations that it will.

No, I am just used to dealing with people that don't bother to actually try and understand the procedure and only try it partially. If you note I responded with scriptures on the subject, the same scriptures I started out with to define the procedure, so it is really just clarifying the procedure.

a reason to believe it

That is an extremely subjective statement. I will do the best I can, but from experience I know it is not likely to be sufficient, but I have been wrong about applying experience on here before so hopefully I am wrong.

  1. Prophecy of the Civil War (not terribly impressive in my opinion given that other people also predicted it, but the rest of the section that is in is interesting)
  2. The word of wisdom (D&C 89) prohibits substances that at the time it was given were thought to be helpful or at least not harmful which are now known to be otherwise. (some people think that the substances are still helpful)
  3. The first law of thermodynamics is in the D&C (however it is dependent on assuming by element the meaning is classical element and not chemical element, a fair assumption in my view but I just had a debate on the subject recently with someone that chose to disagree)
  4. The Jews have/are being gathered from their long dispersion to their ancient homeland, as prophesied in the 1840's at about the same time the Jewish leadership in Europe stated that their would be no physical gathering.
  5. Utah, a name forced on the territory by the US Federal Government, means top of the mountains (or people of the tops of the mountains). Reporters from the eastern US at the time of dedication of the Salt Lake Temple referred to it as the mountain of the Lord's house (due to the granite it was built with). "And it shall come to pass in the last days, [that] the mountain of the LORD'S house shall be established in the top of the mountains, and shall be exalted above the hills; and all nations shall flow unto it." - Isaiah 2:2
  6. "Good out of evil. One must thank the genius of Brigham Young for the creation of Salt Lake City — an inestimable hospitality to the Overland Emigrants, and an efficient example to all men in the vast desert, teaching how to subdue and turn it to a habitable garden" - Ralph Waldo Emerson
    "The wilderness and the solitary place shall be glad for them; and the desert shall rejoice, and blossom as the rose. " - Isaiah 35:1

I think that is enough for now.

comment by CuSithBell · 2011-04-23T21:16:54.731Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

So we're clear, these are intended to be reasons to believe in prophecy, not Mormonism, right?

These sound pretty vague and after-the-fact, and there's no info about specific predictions made beforehand or how often this source is wrong. More to the point - is this what convinced you? If not, what did?

comment by JohnH · 2011-04-24T01:39:39.310Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

these are intended to be reasons to believe in prophecy, not Mormonism, right?

How are they evidence against Mormonism? Considering that only one of those can be accepted as valid prophecy by anyone other then a Latter-Day Saint without theological complications, I think they are stronger evidence for Mormonism in particular then for prophecy in general.

after-the-fact

The prophecies were given beforehand so I don't understand this part of your response. Are you asking for prophecies that haven't happened yet? If so, how would that be evidence of anything?

how often this source is wrong

Please find a wrong example. I am unaware of any specific prophecies that meet the criterion to be prophecies that were not stated as being conditional on some action that have turned up false.

is this what convinced you?

Convinced me of what?

I had experiences with the Spirit that would be applicable for almost any religion on the planet before I had experiences that were specifically about my religion. So knowledge that there was a God came before knowledge of which Church was correct. Going back to Moroni 10:3-5, I eventually decided that I needed to know for myself if the Book of Mormon was true. So I read it as directed and prayed about it as directed and relieved the answer that it was indeed true.

It was only afterwards that experience that I actually read the D&C, The Pearl of Great Price, The Old Testament, and everything other then the Gospels in the New Testament. I likewise repeated the procedure for all of them, and due to the insistence of evangelicals I have dealt with repeated the procedure multiple times on the entire Bible, the New Testament, and the Gospels. This was under the hope that when they said they would do the procedure on the Book of Mormon if I did on whatever it was they said (their idea not mine (and no, none of them ever cracked the Book of Mormon that I can tell )).

Does that answer your question?

comment by Alicorn · 2011-04-24T01:54:20.512Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Speaking of the read-the-book-of-Mormon-and-pray-about-it-and-get-a-straight-answer experiment, I've actually told a couple of my friends that I will eventually do this in the name of empiricism, but it's such a profoundly boring book that I haven't gotten very far yet. Is there a way to read it that makes it more interesting? Why isn't scripture better-crafted?

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-04-24T01:59:01.346Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It is hands down the most boring religious text I have ever read; I would be surprised if there was a more interesting way to read it. The Koran confused me more, and Dianetics annoyed me more, but the Book of Mormon wins on boring.

comment by Alicorn · 2011-04-24T02:01:42.990Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, but I didn't tell any of my friends that I would read the Koran or Dianetics.

I did find some entertainment value in the fact that when I opened the Book of Mormon for the first time, I discovered that Orson Scott Card ripped off its plot for the Memory of Earth series, but... he's a much better writer.

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-04-24T02:11:18.937Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah; I got the same amusement in the other direction, though it makes Card seem to be reaching harder.

comment by Scott Alexander (Yvain) · 2011-04-24T01:58:23.689Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Is there a way to read it that makes it more interesting?

Liveblog it. Chapter by chapter.

comment by Alicorn · 2011-04-24T01:59:06.654Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Would you read that?

comment by JoshuaZ · 2011-04-24T03:19:43.802Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If you are going to do this, make sure that you set aside in advance what you are going to test. And make sure that it is a) easily verifiable and b) not something that could be in your subconscious memory. The most obvious thing to do would be to have now a computer pick a random number, store that in a file somewhere and then when you are done, check if the number (if any) that comes from inspiration matches the number in question.

Why isn't scripture better-crafted?

Mark Twain had some comments about that.

comment by Alicorn · 2011-04-24T03:26:28.147Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Would you like to generate and hold onto a random number for me that I can request as proof, or should I just do this myself?

comment by JoshuaZ · 2011-04-24T03:38:07.688Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I've generated a random number. To verify, there's a relevant SHA-1 string. I will send the string to any trusted user. I'm not going to put the SHA-1 hash here to eliminate the possibility that someone will claim that Alicorn inverted the hash, either deliberately or subconsciously. I would consider such subconscious inversion to be unlikely, but it is nice to control for as many variables as possible.

comment by JohnH · 2011-04-24T03:01:03.034Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

No clue, see Ether 12:23-29 where Moroni the last prophet in the Book of Mormon pretty much appears to ask that very question of the Lord.

comment by Alicorn · 2011-04-24T03:17:49.930Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I looked it up, and it does seem that the question is asked, but it does not appear to be properly answered. Can you interpret God's reply there for me in some answer-ish way? It's pretty hazy.

comment by CuSithBell · 2011-04-24T02:12:47.692Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

How are they evidence against Mormonism?

That's not what I meant - I was just trying to clarify my understanding of your chain of thought.

Anyway. My problem with these predictions was that they generally sounded like what they predicted was determined after those things happened, e.g. the second law of thermodynamics was not formalized by a Mormon.

Please find a wrong example. I am unaware of any specific prophecies that meet the criterion to be prophecies that were not stated as being conditional on some action that have turned up false.

If you really haven't considered this, then suppose: if I write down a thousand very specific predictions, and one of them comes true, would you call me a prophet? If you would, your standards are insufficient for your beliefs to correlate well with the truth.

Wikipedia lists a number of supposedly failed predictions - the hour of Jesus's return was nigh (within a generation) in 1830 but he hasn't arrived, the temple of Zion in Missouri was supposed to be built within a generation, the Civil War didn't end all nations.

I had experiences with the Spirit...

What about these experiences convinced you of the truth of prophecy and / or Mormonism?

Other people have had vague spiritual experiences that convinced them of other, mutually contradictory religions. No one group is in the majority. Thus, no matter what, this is a method that is more likely to convince you of false things.

Why were your experiences different?

comment by JohnH · 2011-04-24T02:54:52.777Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

The Civil War prophecy needs to be read closely to actually understand what is being said, it isn't saying what you think it is.

I believe you are referring to D&C 84:5? "which temple shall be reared in this generation" is a command which they didn't do and are chastised later for it. Then continuing vs 6 "For verily this generation shall not all pass away until an house shall be built unto the Lord..." and so forth which is not a command but a promise. Please see the Kirtland Temple which was built after this revelation was given and did have the promised things happen if the records are to be believed.

The hour of Jesus's return is nigh is the history of the Church one on the list of prophecies correct? It is not given as a prophecy in the history of the Church but is an extrapolation by Joseph of being told that if he lived until he was 85 then he would see Christ, which he wasn't sure was a prediction of the Second Coming but he believed it might have been. Clearly, he didn't live until he was 85 so his second possible interpretation of the statement turned out to be true and his extrapolation of the prophecy turned out to be false.

vague spiritual experiences

Vague? No, they were pretty specific just not specific to only the LDS Church.

Why were your experiences different?

I am not sure what you are asking given the above, please explain further.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-04-24T03:06:05.629Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

The Civil War prophecy needs to be read closely to actually understand what is being said

Almost all prophesies do. (But 'understand' deserves quotation marks.)

comment by JohnH · 2011-04-24T03:15:54.841Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Generally, I agree with you having dealt with various other groups that also have specific prophecies and trying to understand how something so obviously false is explained away.

In any case here is where the debate is:

"and the Southern States will call on other nations, even the nation of Great Britain, as it is called, and they shall also call upon other nations, in order to defend themselves against other nations; and then war shall be poured out upon all nations." D&C 87:3 (well not all of three just from the middle to the end)

The debate is if immediately after the South called on Great Britain to help break the Northern Navel blockade that Great Britain would then be attacked by yet other nations or if some time after this call for help that Great Britain would call for help in the case of the World Wars with the Civil War being the start of the Modern Warfare employed during those wars.

Take from it what you will.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2011-04-24T03:27:05.599Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

There is a simple way a deity could avoid this sort of trouble. If anyone extreme deity wanted to make a prophecy that was unambiguous they wouldn't need to bother with this sort of claim. There's a really easy type of prophesy that would have been fine until just a few years ago. "The following 200 digit number is prime: _ " If any ancient scripture had that, it would convince almost everyone once we got the technology to verify it. Curiously, regardless of religion, they always seem to be vague prophecies, which are only clear after the fact, or are likely events. We wouldn't need to have discussion about whether a verse meant to apply to a specific war, or anything like that.

comment by JohnH · 2011-04-24T05:21:31.974Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

True. However, that isn't what God wants. He already knows that we will follow him if we have absolute proof on the subject, this because we didn't rebel with Lucifer. He wants to know, or rather for us to know, if we will follow him when we don't have such proof.

To try and bring this into terms more familiar with this site:

It is already know that we will behave properly when it is hard coded to do so. Now the test is to see if we will behave properly when we are free to choose our own morality and utility functions. If so then we become Friendly AI (gods) of our own worlds populated with our children. If not then depending on how badly we screw up will determine what we end up being useful for and if we screw up badly enough such that when the hard coded knowledge is returned we continue to behave badly then we get cast out as being unfit for anything. To assist in this God has placed the knowledge of what to do in such a way that it is accessible if we wish to use it. To not make it too easy He also placed the discarded potential AI's (e.g. the devil and his angels) in a position to interact with us. He has also provided methods such that if we use them parts of the knowledge can be restored to us.

Hopefully that is helpful and doesn't step on too many toes.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2011-04-24T03:29:51.921Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The second law of thermodynamics is in the D&C (however it is dependent on assuming by element the meaning is classical element and not chemical element, a fair assumption in my view but I just had a debate on the subject recently with someone that chose to disagree)

This is a claim I haven't encountered before. I'm curious incidentally what you have to say about the claimed scientific knowledge in the Koran.

comment by JohnH · 2011-04-24T03:58:10.975Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

oops, sort of miswrote, it is the first law not second. Well, the second is sort of there too but not nearly in the same way, sorry.

I am not familiar with the claims of scientific knowledge in the Koran, I would be interested in seeing the references to that.

The LDS position on the Koran is interesting. We do not know if Mohammad was a prophet but generally it appears the authorities in the Church think it is likely that he was, not a presiding Apostle but still having received revelation that was of a general nature for the area he was in. This puts the Koran on the level of Apocrypha which does contain true bits but also contains lots of not true bits so can be inspirational but does not count as scripture.

It is my understanding the the Muslims hold the Koran to be perfect so our position is contrary to theirs. Also it is my understanding that not only did Mohammad not write down what revelations he actually received when he received them but they were not written down at all until his death. I, personally, think there is too many layers of filtration over top of whatever was received by revelation to know what was revelation and what was not.

comment by JoshuaZ · 2011-04-24T04:04:32.647Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

oops, sort of miswrote, it is the first law not second. Well, the second is sort of there too but not nearly in the same way, sorry.

Ok. So where is it? Can you point to the specific scripture?

Regarding such knowledge in the Koran, I think you may have missed my point. I'm sorry, since that's clearly my fault since this is the second time I've used an example of an Abrahamic religion that has accidental complicating factors by being connected to LDS theology. So, let's ask the same question instead about say the Vedic texts. (The point by the way if it isn't clear, is that almost every religion has apologists who make this sort of claim about advanced knowledge in their holy texts. Just as each religion has people dedicated to saying why apparent contradictions aren't contradictions, why the archaeological evidence that doesn't fit their claims really does (although Islam is actually one that has much less of this problem than others), and how they have prophesies of subsequent events.)

comment by JohnH · 2011-04-24T04:37:17.033Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

, why the archaeological evidence that doesn't fit their claims really does

Having been on an archaeological dig in Belize and having a wife that is a trained Mayan epigrapher, I am familiar with how archaeology is conducted and what is actually known about the subject, at least when it comes to central America. The answer is almost nothing, and my wife will hurt anyone except her grandparents that tries to claim that the Book of Mormon is referring to the Mayans. There is certainly enough evidence to say that it wasn't the classic or pre-classic Mayan (to begin with the dates are wrong, and the geography)

In case you didn't know claiming the Mayan were the Nephites is a decently common one among apologetics and it is the stupidest claim I have ever heard from them. It is much more accurate to say that we have no idea where the Nephites were, but that shouldn't be surprising if one actually goes through the Book of Mormon and tries to estimate how big the civilization was and where they lived. The answer is they were small and somewhere in southern Central America. Sorry, this is totally tangent to the discussion but you have my answer to the archeology objection now. It is not the standard one which I don't know what that is anymore. This, because they make things up instead of saying we don't know because apparently saying we don't know doesn't get rich donors to give you money.

accidental complicating factors by being connected to LDS theology

um. I think I should clue you in on a basic doctrine of the LDS Church. There is no major religion on the planet that does not have complicating factors by being connected to LDS theology (excluding other christian restoration movements such as Jehovah's Witness or Scientology). God has revealed to every nation that portion of the truth that they were willing to receive and they subsequently fell into apostasy. I wasn't trying to hide that, it is taught in the first lesson given to investigators into the church by the missionaries.

Can you point to the specific scripture?

D&C 93:33 is the main one. See also 93:29 and 131:7-8 for further information on the cosmology being talked about.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-04-24T06:49:17.513Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

apostasy

I love that word. I never thought I'd grow up to be an apostate but now that I have it has such a good ring to it. Even better than heretic.

comment by JohnH · 2011-04-24T04:46:14.150Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

She will also hurt you if you try and say the world will end in 2012 because the Mayans said it would. They didn't, their Calendar Round just increments to the next large cycle then. Even if they had, their idea of the world ending is nothing like our idea of the world ending as for them the world ending was a cyclical event that preceded a new creation and has happened multiple times in the past.

comment by Estarlio · 2011-05-17T10:55:46.867Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The problem with rhetorical questions is they can be answered in ways that don't support your argument:

"18 Now I ask, is this faith? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; for if a man knoweth a thing he hath no cause to believe, for he knoweth it.

19 And now, how much more cursed is he that knoweth the will of God and doeth it not, than he that only believeth, or only hath cause to believe, and falleth into transgression?" Alma 32:18-19

I put my keys down when I came into the house - in a sense I know they're with the gun and the wallet and if I turn my head slightly to one side I'll see them. Of course someone may have crept up on me and moved them. I do not - in the strongest possible sense of the concept 'know' that my keys are there.

Everything beneath that strongest possible sense of knowledge, however, is simply talking about degrees of more or less well justified belief. So what's being asked in Alma 32:18 produces a positive answer: Of course I believe that which I know. My well justified beliefs are held much more strongly than less well justified beliefs.

Which makes of 32:19 something almost completely meaningless. Believing, having cause to believe, is simply what knowledge is. You're essentially asking how much greater X is than X. To which the answer is, 'Not at all. X is the same as X.'


In all honesty a god, or someone operating under divine revelation, would know how these things evaluated. He would have expressed himself properly.

comment by JohnH · 2011-05-17T13:25:15.196Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Your argument only makes sense if you are a Bayesian that denies the whole idea of knowledge built off of axioms. Which is funny because Bayes theorem is built off of a set of well defined axioms. How do you know Bayes theorem is true outside of the axioms that it is built off of?

Anyways, change it to degrees of confidence such that knowledge is something like 90% and faith is anything below that. Or whatever critical values you wish to use.

comment by Estarlio · 2011-05-17T14:29:26.144Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Alright. I'm happy enough being a Mormon with proof that only makes you right somewhere around 90% of the time. Cough up.

Resetting confidence levels is a dangerous game for any person to play with their beliefs. You've said I can set it wherever I like. Fine, I choose to set it such that greater than or equal to fifty one percent confidence will be knowledge of some degree, rather than faith.

Do you see the consequences here? I've just reduced the chance that any aspect of your canon and testimony is actually correct to the odds of a coin flip. If you accept those boundaries, then you can't use the book of Mormon or divine testimony or anything like that as something any more substantial than a coin flip to guide your decisions or beliefs. It's essentially admitting that you'd be just as well off using a gambler's dice to guide your life.

There's a tension in fiddling with confidence levels like this. Between meaning and proof. If you want an empty faith – then that's very easy to have without obligating yourself to any sort of evidence, but it's not clear there's anything there to believe in. However, if you want to preserve that sort of meaning then you've got to select confidence levels in excess of fifty percent and retain those as faith and that obligates you to some sort of proof.

And, by the by: this all works whether or not you're a pure Bayesian. Axioms are true simply by virtue of the rules of the system. They are true in every possible world where the system in which they're constructed can be made to apply. To the truth state of an axiom it doesn't matter whether god will provide testimony or not.

If you think knowledge only comes from axioms - (or is built purely on axioms) - then in offering some prediction as being fulfilled you're not being asked for anything that would qualify as knowledge. It's not even clear under such a construction that you're being asked for anything that would qualify as evidence of a particular axiom.

Of course the minute you start saying that the evidence does matter to the truth states it ceases to be an axiom; for all that the formula may itself contain or wrest on axioms.

comment by JohnH · 2011-05-17T15:55:34.897Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Put it this way, if you think that there is a 1% probability (e.g. you are convinced it is bogus) that I am right in stating that if taken seriously God will answer prayers as from the scriptures I provided and this is enough to get you to try out what they say then that was sufficient faith in that instance. Clearly at 1% probability you shouldn't be doing anything else that comes with believing in the Book of Mormon or being LDS (at least that doesn't already coincide with what you think of as being right).

If you follow through and get evidence to boost the Book of Mormon to say 70 or 80% level then that should likewise boost the level confidence of what the book says to do to high enough to test them out. Following what the book says and finding it to be right should then boost the level, eventually at least, to whatever you have preset as your critical value to say you know it to be true.

If however one waits until they have evidence to suggest something is true with ones preset critical value then one is not acting in faith. If one has evidence at that level and then doesn't follow the commands of God then one is worse off then someone that thinks it is bogus but has had someone tell them it isn't or someone that due to everything else thinks it has 51% chance to be right.

Does this make more sense to you?

comment by Estarlio · 2011-05-18T02:27:07.510Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

That doesn't seem consistent with part of the earlier verse you posted.

'[I]f a man knoweth a thing he hath no cause to believe, for he knoweth it.'

Under the account you're offering faith and knowledge are just different degrees of belief – indeed under that account knowledge is the type of belief with the most cause behind it. Whereas under the account in the verse knowledge and belief seem to be completely different kinds of thing.

If you want to call different degrees of confidence faith and knowledge, I don't really mind – the probabilities are what they are regardless of the labels you hang off them - but it doesn't seem to be doing any work that gets you closer to the conclusion you've decided on. You haven't illustrated any difference beyond the claim that at some point of arbitrarily selected confidence it's going to become worse for us if we don't follow the relevant commandments.

Which is fine as far as it goes I suppose – why doesn't god provide whatever portion of the evidence doesn't quite tip me over that vital point yet preserves enough meaning to actually be evidence?

It strikes me the answer is going to have to be along the lines of 'The more sure you are the more liable you are.' But then the degree of confidence is a measure of degrees of knowledge and you've lost that sharp divide that seems to be required for you to make meaning and faith coexist (i.e. being more sure of the religion's groundings than of a fair coin flip). The objection that I couldn't know because then I wouldn't believe would become rather meaningless – all meaningful faith would be based primarily on some form of knowledge.

comment by JohnH · 2011-05-18T05:38:16.302Z · score: -2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

why doesn't god provide whatever portion of the evidence doesn't quite tip me over that vital point yet preserves enough meaning to actually be evidence?

It is my understanding that He does.

'The more sure you are the more liable you are

yep.

all meaningful faith would be based primarily on some form of knowledge.

Which it is. An experience once provided does give knowledge of the thing, however it is possible to doubt your experiences. Also, the experiences only provide knowledge of one thing and there will remain many things that are not known with the same surety, some of which may be difficult to understand, and these things must be taken on faith until they too become known.

arbitrarily selected confidence it's going to become worse for us if we don't follow the relevant commandments.

I would think that it is a continuum such that someone totally unaware of anything about the subject is not liable for anything while those that have received knowledge of everything are liable for all of it.

Confidence in something not tested is faith. Anything not known with whatever level of confidence constitutes near enough to certainty to not matter for you is taken on faith. Knowledge is anything that is known with that level of confidence to constitute certainty. I am pretty sure that is a consistent translation of the terms into something understandable in this setting, I could be wrong.

comment by Estarlio · 2011-05-18T16:36:29.422Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

It is my understanding that He does.

If you're right in respect to the prophesies of Thomas S. Monson, I don't see how this could hold. They would be strong evidence.

In any case I think, we've got the chunks to start doing some building.

All meaningful faith would be based primarily on some form of knowledge.

Which it is.

But.

Knowledge is anything that is known with that level of confidence to constitute certainty.

Also known things are knowledge. You seem to be invoking, admittedly with some degree of displacement, the term in its own description.

Confidence in something not tested is faith.

To a degree – if you're going to build knowledge into the meaningfulness of faith then faith would be something like believing with a greater certainty than the evidence justifies. Since all faith would be tested to some extent, even if very weakly, in order to contain meaning.

The problem with that approach is that it never seems necessary for me to believe beyond the evidence. If I put, say, one percent confidence on the idea of god based upon things I see then that's not faith – and if I get more evidence from investigating based on that one percent and believe it to be slightly more likely – do some more investigation and get more... it never becomes faith; it's testing / knowledge all the way up.

comment by JohnH · 2011-05-18T21:25:36.127Z · score: -4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

You seem to be invoking, admittedly with some degree of displacement, the term in its own description.

I know, probably should be changed to "anything that is held to be true with such a level of confidence so as to not make any difference from 100%". That removes the term but doesn't seem to change the meaning.

faith would be something like believing with a greater certainty than the evidence justifies

hmm. That would certainly be faith but it doesn't fit exactly with how it is used in, say "Lectures on Faith". The confidence is the faith, it really is that broad of a concept.

comment by Estarlio · 2011-05-20T02:10:15.207Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If faith is just another word for confidence then knowledge would just be a high degree of faith and that doesn't fit in with how it's used in the Book; where it's held that if you know you don't have faith/believe.

If you keep using knowledge to mean a very high degree of confidence and maintain that all meaningful faith is based on knowledge - and not just in the sense of exceeding the level of confidence that evidence justifies - then I'm not sure how it's possible for meaningful faith to exist.

Since:

If it meets the level of confidence that the knowledge justifies, then it's not faith. And if it exceeds the level of confidence that evidence justifies then it doesn't fit how it's used in "Lectures on Faith". And I take it just as a given that faith is not to believe /less/ than the evidence justifies - especially with 1 John 4:1 commanding people to test their prophets.

comment by JohnH · 2011-05-20T05:40:56.439Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

meaningful faith

what do you mean by meaningful faith?

knowledge would just be a high degree of faith

Knowledge would be certainty. However, this site works with the assumption that certainty is impossible so I am trying to get everything to work under that assumption.

I am looking at my computer right now so I am certain it exists were I to look away I would be slightly less certain of its existence. That difference in certainty of the current existence of the computer seems to constitute faith as used in scripture and lectures on faith. However, I am still certain that the computer did exist while I was looking at it even if I am not looking at it currently, I know it existed then (I would say that my degree of certainty of it currently existing would still constitute knowledge, but as used it would seem to be in some sense faith).

According to this site I can not say that I know with certainty that I am male. I wonder what the confidence level is that I exist or that you exist. I have seen examples of saying that one can not be certain of the prime numbers or of 1+1=2. To me all these things are certainties, I know them even if in reproducing that knowledge to an outside observer I might err in doing so. This is what I mean by knowledge, if you can come up with a better way of explaining it in terms of this site where there is no certainty other then what I have explained then please do so.

comment by Estarlio · 2011-05-21T03:17:02.236Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

This is what I mean by knowledge, if you can come up with a better way of explaining it in terms of this site where there is no certainty other then what I have explained then please do so.

You seem to be meaning two things by knowledge, depending on the context in which you use it. I would suggest that you might find it easier if you use the words 'information' or 'evidence' when talking about justifications for a level of confidence/faith. And only use 'knowledge' to signify whatever high degree of confidence you've decided to use as your cut-off point for hands-in-fire-get-burned, I'm-looking-at-the-computer-and-it's-still-there levels of certainty.

It still seems to me that you're going to end up with problems if you hold faith as being another word for confidence. Since even certainty (100% confidence) is still a degree of confidence – and also knowledge under such a definition. But scripture holds that knowledge isn't faith – which is the same as saying if you hold that faith and confidence are synonymous – that knowledge isn't a degree of confidence (even 100% confidence).

It seems to me to be a deeper problem than one of definitions.

You're going to have problems if you say that faith just refers to the preceding 99.9 recurring % levels of confidence, too. You've said that it's a general enough idea, in “Lectures on Faith”, to just be taken as a synonymous term with confidence. But even putting that problem aside, when you wanted to start talking about scripture again I suspect you'd end up saying either, 'People don't believe that which they know.' Or, 'People don't believe that which they have faith in.'

But belief isn't one of those fuzzy terms, like knowledge or faith. The meaning can't be altered to fit a particular argument without doing significant damage to the network of references into which it fits. If I say I believe my computer is in front of me while I'm typing on it, (which going by your standards would also be knowledge,) then there's no significant question what I mean. Just as it's coherent for me to say that I believe my front door is locked, when strictly speaking I've heard one of the other occupants of the building come in and do not know if they locked the door. You might ask how strongly I believe it, but it's coherent for me to answer that in degrees of doubt/confidence; even to the point of saying that I have no doubt.

If you start saying that belief means something else to patch the problem in the epistemology, then you're going to have to explain how that new definition is coherent with all the other instances of its use. And that will alter more, even more well defined, meanings to do that which you're going to have to redefine along with everything that hooks onto those instances... and so on until eventually you've defined everything in terms of whether it makes your theology right. It doesn't seem to be a workable approach.

what do you mean by meaningful faith?

Better odds than the chance a similarly but non-testimony privileged observer has. Or to put it another way whether the faith adds any information. (With non-adding faith being meaningless.)

Take the coin-flip example:

If we were to say that somehow divine testimony could predict the outcome of a coin flip. (Not that I'm saying it can but if it could - or someone claimed it could.) You might get three groups – in separate rooms – and one group would commune with god and score down their predictions, and the other two groups would flip coins. And you'd see what the difference between the god group and one of the coin flipping groups was as compared to the difference between the two coin flipping groups. Do it a few hundred times to get the errors down to whatever you'd decided the noise level was and see whether the faith group was more reliable.

If at the end of all that you didn't have a higher degree of confidence in the predictions of divinity than those of a coin flip, then – assuming that was all the evidence you had for god – you may as well use the coin flip to dictate your actions. The faith wouldn't add any information, it wouldn't hook onto the world you were experiencing.

You could do the same sort of thing with the more day to day predictions of prophets from the Church but you'd need to compare them against experts in whatever field the prediction was being made in since the real world provides more information than they'd have in the coin flip case. The advantage of the coin flip is that there are fewer confounding variables more than anything else.

comment by JohnH · 2011-05-21T04:00:22.680Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

meaning two things by knowledge, depending on the context in which you use it.

I think you are right in this assessment.

when you wanted to start talking about scripture again I suspect you'd end up saying either, 'People don't believe that which they know.' Or, 'People don't believe that which they have faith in.'

??? - you lost me here. Why would I end up saying that people don't believe that which they know? Why would I have to redefine belief?

You could do the same sort of thing with the more day to day predictions of prophets from the Church but you'd need to compare them against experts in whatever field the prediction was being made in since the real world provides more information than they'd have in the coin flip case

Take the Word of Wisdom for instance the experts in the health fields are still not able to agree as to whether coffee, tea, and alcohol are good or bad for you in the long run. The LDS Church however has consistently said they were. If the revelations from God are correct then one would expect that those that follow the revelations would be healthier than similar populations, which is indeed the case. Is this the type of thing that you mean?

comment by Estarlio · 2011-05-23T17:50:37.247Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Why would I end up saying that people don't believe that which they know?

Alma 32:18 [I]f a man knoweth a thing he hath no cause to believe, for he knoweth it.

But if knowledge was just a belief with 100% confidence, then that you knew it would mean you had quite a few causes to believe it.

I suppose you could also end up saying that knowledge was uncaused belief but that seems even more problematic

Take the Word of Wisdom for instance the experts in the health fields are still not able to agree as to whether coffee, tea, and alcohol are good or bad for you in the long run.

I'm not surprised, risk profiles don't tend to reduce to a substance being absolutely good or bad for you. It depends on your genetics and the interaction of various chemicals in the drink, not all of which have linear relationships with consumption.

So far as coffee goes, broadly speaking, the consensus among the experts - i.e. those publishing studies into the effects of coffee - seems to indicate that consumption beneath four cups a day has more health benefits than risks, unless you happen to have gastro intestinal problems or need iron supplements. Paper filters seem to reduce risks even further.

Tea seems to be okay as long as you don't put milk with it or drink it while it's incredibly hot. Or drink stupid amounts, of course.

Alcohol? Well one or two drinks seems to be linked to reduced mortality - at least in the UK. The French seem to do well with it, though it may just be because of their diets. Heavy consumption does seem to be very bad for you.

The LDS Church however has consistently said they were. If the revelations from God are correct then one would expect that those that follow the revelations would be healthier than similar populations, which is indeed the case. Is this the type of thing that you mean?

In principle, yeah. I don't think the WoW is very strong evidence by itself because there are loads of other possible explanations for health variances, and depending on the rationale the range of likely guesses may not have been all that wide, and because, IIRC, it was originally hot drinks in general which was changed later on when it became untenable; but it's the right sort of thing, yeah.

If LDS's prophets consistently make better predictions than experts, then they've probably got access to some sort of privileged information to narrow their range of answers down. Either that or they're just vastly more rational than the experts, but the odds of that are slim.

comment by JohnH · 2011-05-23T21:58:57.330Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Alma 32:18 [I]f a man knoweth a thing he hath no cause to believe, for he knoweth it. But if knowledge was just a belief with 100% confidence, then that you knew it would mean you had quite a few causes to believe it.

I always took it to mean that if one knows something one has no cause to doubt it.

Belief as defined at dictionary.com does work with saying that one does not believe something one knows, being if a statement has proof then one does not believe it (see # 2).

It seems to be using belief-in as opposed to belief-that. If not then you are right that my definition of knowledge doesn't work.

it was originally hot drinks in general which was changed later on when it became untenable

It appears to have been clarified in July of 1833 when the revelation was given in February of 1833.

comment by JohnH · 2011-05-17T15:24:46.185Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

What is your confidence level that putting your hand into a campfire is will burn your hand?

edit As in I assumed you were intelligent enough to see everything you said and to assume that I was also intelligent enough to see such things.

comment by Estarlio · 2011-05-17T17:49:36.314Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Close enough to 100% that it makes no practical difference.

That doesn't seem to leave you any better off though. Which, yes, I assumed you'd seen. If the level of confidence you wish to select is to be high - perhaps even very high - before faith becomes knowledge, then the level of proof you can offer without destroying faith will be almost equally high. Even if we go all the way out to 100% you've just taken on a greater burden of proof.

This isn't some abstract thing. We should be able to sit you down in a room with a fair coin - or some other thing that can be relatively easily measured - and have you call it. See what statistic it approaches - how God does against blind chance. If knowledge is to be 70% confidence and god only calls it 69% of the time that 1% difference preserves your faith. The same for whatever level of confidence you select. The only way the objection offered in Alma makes any sort of sense is if there is no such difference with which to preserve faith.

comment by JohnH · 2011-05-18T00:27:21.370Z · score: -1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

We should be able to sit you down in a room with a fair coin - or some other thing that can be relatively easily measured - and have you call it.

If I were claiming to be psychic or something then maybe. You have pretty much the same opportunity to try this out using the given method as I do. However, what makes you think that God is willing to play such a game? He isn't a genie or oracle that grants every random wish. I could be wrong but I doubt He would be care to be treated so lightly.

. If knowledge is to be 70% confidence and god only calls it 69% of the time that 1% difference preserves your faith.

Um, I think you have the wrong idea on the type of confidence we are talking about. If we did such a coin toss experiment and the person trying to communicate with God got it right 69% of the time that would give a much greater than 69% estimate to the existence of said God. That is getting 69% of all coin tosses right over a very large subset of coin tosses should lead one to first check to make sure that the coin is a fair coin, then lead one to use a different coin even if it is, and then lead one to try and eliminate all other possible explanations, and if it is still 69% of the time right then one should a) believe fairly highly in however the person is getting that information and b) take that person gambling or have that person pick stocks for you (or figure out how to do it yourself) before publishing any results of the study.

comment by Estarlio · 2011-05-18T02:00:49.728Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

If I were claiming to be psychic or something then maybe. You have pretty much the same opportunity to try this out using the given method as I do.

I already know it doesn't work for me. Perhaps I wasn't taking it seriously enough – whatever that means.

However, what makes you think that God is willing to play such a game? He isn't a genie or oracle that grants every random wish. I could be wrong but I doubt He would be care to be treated so lightly.

You have a god that reveals his existence to guide his followers on matters of relatively minuscule importance but won't reveal his existence to save someone's immortal soul? He's already playing the game. His values may be very different to our own but he's playing. (Assuming of course he exists.)

I don't think it's treating him lightly either. Some kid tells you they're a god you just smile and nod, some adult say it you ask them demonstrate some suitably implausible power. When you take something seriously you test it. Generally the more seriously you take something the more you test it – resources allowing – not less.

Treating him lightly would be dancing off to believe in some random god because I got the warm fuzzies when I went to a church/mosque/whatever, or because of what I read in some book.

It's not like he's being asked to do it as a parlour trick. It's not random either – it's for a purpose. Someone's immortal soul may or may not be in jeopardy.

Um, I think you have the wrong idea on the type of confidence we are talking about.

I think so too. Whatever calls would give you a 69% confidence then.

comment by JohnH · 2011-05-18T02:24:06.789Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

He's already playing the game. His values may be very different to our own but he's playing.

Ok, agreed.

kid tells you they're a god

I assume you mean there is a god?

Treating him lightly would be dancing off to believe in some random god because I got the warm fuzzies when I went to a church/mosque/whatever, or because of what I read in some book.

Also agreed.

he's being asked to do it as a parlour trick

This is what I was assuming you were asking to have happen.

I am working on a longer response now that I have a better understanding of what it is you are requesting.

comment by JohnH · 2011-05-18T05:01:00.623Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Second part

As to the most recent specific prophecies from the living prophet Thomas S. Monson so far I have come up with this:

There remain, however, areas of the world where our influence is limited and where we are not allowed to share the gospel freely. As did President Spencer W. Kimball over 32 years ago, I urge you to pray for the opening of those areas, that we might share with them the joy of the gospel. As we prayed then in response to President Kimball’s pleadings, we saw miracles unfold as country after country, formerly closed to the Church, was opened. Such will transpire again as we pray with faith. Thomas S Monson, President of the Church, October 2008

The fall of Communism in Europe was what opened up those countries. It to me therefore seems that President Monson was prophesying the current unrest in the dictatorships throughout the world and that this will eventually allow for LDS missionaries to enter some of those countries. As the missionaries are not currently in any of the countries (nor is the unrest overwith) this is one that we should be able to watch develop.

Plus the prophecy that there will be more temples built. Further revelation given is such things as the calling of a new apostle, the calling of missionaries, and other adminstrative things which while important to the Church I doubt anyone outside of the Church cares (excluding some ex-mormons (along with some social mormons that don't understand the doctrine) that are really upset over Prop. 8 and the reaffirming the Churches stance against homosexual behaviors, which they really should have known anyways).

I have previously listed some of the other prophecies that have come true as well as some other prophecies that to me seem very specific. I can try finding more but in the end it will almost always be possible to say that "my idol did it" or anyone could have known that or "Some things they may have guessed right, among so many; but behold, we know that all these great and marvelous works cannot come to pass, of which has been spoken" or other such things. I am very much of the opinion that signs, prophecies, and miracles will not and should not provide sufficient evidence to convince someone without they themselves asking God to know if it is true. They should, however, provide evidence enough to begin to act and to be willing to test things out.

I do know of another precedure that is empirical but it is asking a lot more of people. Also, I am not asking for donations to my church, as I explain:

Malachi 3:10: "Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse ... and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to recieve it". Here is what I am actually suggesting, find some organization or charity that you beleive to be good and give that organization 10% of your income (measured however you think is honest with yourself) track your expenditures, your income, and net worth over the course of a year and then at the end of the year of so doing evaluate your situation, see if God followed through on His promise. If you believe that SIAI is a good organization then donate to them. I don't care who you donate it to as long as you believe it to be a good worthwhile cause, therefore if you don't think my church is true then please don't donate to it, as I doubt it will be effective if you do.

comment by khafra · 2011-05-18T14:24:43.111Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

You should look at information gain when evaulating the strength of a prophecy. For instance, "closed countries will become open at some point in the future." Assume this requires a major change in government, then look at the expected rate of major government change--I'm going to make a guess of a 2% chance per year. After 14 years (1976-1990), observing a government change major enough to open a country gives you around 2 bits of information.

That means this "prophecy" is approximately as impressive as prophecying correctly that a fair coin will come up heads twice.

Even if you read the prophecies with no bias whatsoever, if you're charitable enough to forgive 3 failures for each 1 amazingly correct prediction, the prophet cannot lose.

comment by JohnH · 2011-05-18T14:40:49.659Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Some of the nations were opened up before 1990. Further, this is not saying one country opened up but many. Perhaps you are not aware that in 1976 it appeared as though communism would last forever and saying not just one but that all of Soviet bloc would not be communist in 14 years was viewed as an impossibility.

if you're charitable enough to forgive 3 failures for each 1 amazingly correct prediction, the prophet cannot lose.

Where are the failures?

comment by khafra · 2011-05-18T15:11:50.254Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I'm not familiar enough with the publications of the LDS church to list any. Reading the linked speech, "opening new areas" did seem to be the only thing one could fairly call a prediction. Perhaps there are no unfulfilled predictions in the historical records.

More likely, perhaps most prophecies had different possibilities for information gain; even that prophecy--1 major government change every 50 years was just a guess, although the single government change in the USSR was the proximate cause of each country's opening.

But all I really meant to say is that a prophecy is not a boolean quantity, but a point on a continuum from correctly predicting "the sun will rise tomorrow" to correctly predicting "the sun will not rise tomorrow." Before treating a prophecy as evidence for any particular properties of the prophet or the prophet's sponsor, you should locate it on that continuum.

comment by JohnH · 2011-05-18T04:57:52.700Z · score: -3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

hmm.. looks like it will be multiple comments as it is too long.

won't reveal his existence to save someone's immortal soul?

Some of this I will have already covered in other responses, I hope it is okay if I cover it again.

I think the best place to begin is to explain what the purpose of life is and then go from there. That is, there are reasons God operates the way He does and they are directly related to why we are here on Earth. It will seem round about and I am sorry for that, I can't think of a shorter way to answer that would communicate the necessary information.

First, Gods goal for us is "to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man". That is we are here to gain a body (in case anyone is wondering, you have succeeded at that part) and to qualify to return to the presence of God which will allow us to become gods ourselves (Joint-Heirs with Christ). Therefore the goal is to have us obtain the same state of power and knowledge that God has and just as we do not wish to give god-like power to an AI that is then going to screw things up so too God does not wish to do the same to us.

Previous to this life we lived in the presence God being His sons and daughters and we knew, as we could see him, saw the power he had, and had sufficient understanding to know, that He was God and what was right. Even in this state of knowledge 1/3 of all of God's children fell, they rebelled against God and were cast out into Hell (for simplicities sake I will use the term Hell, it isn't entirely accurate to do so but the purpose isn't to give you a complete understanding of all the details), forever. Those of us who get born on Earth did not fall but followed what was right when we knew for a surety that it was right.

Due to the fact that we did not fall we receive bodies and even after we die will again receive our bodies to no more part from them in the resurrection. This is what is meant by immortality and it is a free gift to all.

As to eternal life it is up to us on earth to live according to what we know to be right. Not what we wish was right but what we actually know to be right. This is primarily what we will be judged on. However, with the exception of Christ no one has perfectly lived according to what they know the right things to do are. We all fail and we all know that we fail, many when they so fail try to redefine what is right so that it appears to them that they have not failed but God knows their hearts and they can not fool him, or in the end themselves. Due to this state of failure, or sin, to follow what we know to be right we become unworthy of entering back into the presence of God.

This is where Christ comes in, He is our savior and able to wipe away our sins such that we can again be clean. For this to happen requires one to be baptized in the correct manner by the correct authority. After baptism one receives the companionship of the Holy Spirit to assist in making correct decisions, however one is still mortal and fallen and thus will still err regularly and so must regularly repent and renew the covenants made to obtain forgiveness again.

To obtain eternal life one must accept baptism while still alive, or at the first available opportunity when dead. That is, it does matter when one is baptized if one has heard the gospel sufficiently to have a high degree of confidence in its validity while still alive, if not then after death is fine. Refusing to hear more with the sole purpose so as to not have a that high degree of confidence (and thus not be required to change ones behaviors) is an action that demonstrates a sufficient degree of confidence for the penalty to apply

. After baptism following the commandments is required to maintain the state of grace. Everyone will have a chance to be baptized (and the other saving ordinances) whether in life or after death, this is what most of the work in the temples is.

In the final state we can end up in a variety of places, if we obtain a perfect knowledge and then reject everything then we end up cast out with those that rebelled at the beginning. Contrary to popular opinion, this is a state that will eventually be available to everyone to choose as we will all be brought back into a state of perfect knowledge and thus will again have the opportunity to reject it. If we never even tried to do what we knew to be right but accepted and reveled in our sins then we end up in the Telestial Kingdom, which is comparable to life on Earth but perfected so as to be a heaven. If we attempted to do what was right but for a variety of reasons did not accept baptism when we had the chance then we will end up in Terrestrial Kingdom, which is pretty much what is described when people are commonly describing the christian view of heaven (being no family units but a state of great happiness). The Celestial Kingdom is where God dwells and those that obtain it have eternal life, those that obtain it and are in a married family unit obtain the state of godhood called exaltation.

From all of this it should be clear that your immortal soul, while at stake, is not in any particular danger from God not revealing Himself to you. If you are trying to do what you know to be right then you have lost nothing. If you aren't trying to do what you know to be right then revealing himself to you could very well get you cast out, which is not what God is in the business of doing. He has provided sufficient evidence to suggest His existence while not casting out those that choose to not believe in the evidence provided. More evidence will be provided in the future as things get worse in the world, but until near the end it will continue to be such that many honest people that are trying to do what is right will not have to know the truth.

Warm fuzzies may or may not be a manifestation of the Spirit. It is often described as a still small voice or a burning sensation within (not a bad burning sensation, that is probably heart burn or something). It should be in both your mind and in your heart, being thoughts and feelings. This is the primary way with which God communicates with us as it testifies of the truth and lets us know what is right. It is also easily drowned out by other emotions and feelings and easily confused with other things (uncontrollable crying, a sense of community, trances, babelling incoherently, a sense of confusion are common things mistaken for the spirit) . There are a variety of other means of communication but all of them should be accompanied by this feeling of the Spirit (angels, visions, burning bush, talking donkey, dreams are some examples from the Bible of other means of communication (if I ever have a donkey or pretty much any other animal talk to me my first reaction will be to assume I had eaten something really bad or that I was crazy and either way need to seek medical attention, but it is there))

comment by Estarlio · 2011-05-20T01:43:00.856Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If you are trying to do what you know to be right then you have lost nothing. If you aren't trying to do what you know to be right then revealing himself to you could very well get you cast out, which is not what God is in the business of doing.

So why has he revealed himself even at a low level of confidence? People supposedly already know right from wrong so that's not it.

If his revealing himself helps people to do right rather than wrong more than it imperils them, then in his not revealing himself to me I have lost something. (It's less probable that I will do right and thus I have been imperilled.) If he helps at a particular level of confidence less than he imperils then it doesn't make sense for him to reveal himself to anyone. If they're equal then there's no purpose in it.


Assorted thoughts on the rest:

That is, there are reasons God operates the way He does and they are directly related to why we are here on Earth.

Eh, there's a tension between power and justification. If you take it to the extreme, omnipotence and reason are mutually exclusive criteria. (Outside, perhaps, of an inability to commit logical contradictions, but that doesn't really seem to be involved here.)

Therefore the goal is to have us obtain the same state of power and knowledge that God has and just as we do not wish to give god-like power to an AI that is then going to screw things up so too God does not wish to do the same to us.

I'd be more than happy to give symmetrical power to an AI, assuming I had godly powers. The whole issue is that a recursively improving AI might become far more powerful than ourselves.

Those of us who get born on Earth did not fall but followed what was right when we knew for a surety that it was right.

Why do we need to qualify to return if we followed him and didn't fall?

Due to this state of failure, or sin, to follow what we know to be right we become unworthy of entering back into the presence of God.

Above you said we were here to gain a body and to qualify to return to the presence of God. However, if we become unworthy of returning to God that removes a lot of the reason for being here. Why not be embodied and immediately die? The purpose of life then having been completed.

As to eternal life it is up to us on earth to live according to what we know to be right. Not what we wish was right but what we actually know to be right.

You've already said knowledge is an incredibly high degree of confidence – indeed you've said that it's practically indistinguishable from certainty - which you've in turn tied to proof. I've seen no proof of right and wrong. A feeling certainly isn't proof; asides from anything else I've felt different ways about ethical issues at different points in time. Then you have the cultural variances in preferences and emotions....

This is the primary way with which God communicates with us as it testifies of the truth and lets us know what is right. It is also easily drowned out by other emotions and feelings and easily confused with other things (uncontrollable crying, a sense of community, trances, babelling incoherently, a sense of confusion are common things mistaken for the spirit) .

Again you've tied knowledge to being a high degree of confidence. If it's easily confused with other things then it doesn't provide that high degree of confidence. It also has the same problems as communication in general concerning its purpose. If the value of the guidance of testimony is exceeded by the peril of knowing more then it shouldn't be done. If the inverse holds then it should be done for everyone. If they're equal then there's no purpose in it one way or the other.

comment by JohnH · 2011-05-20T05:29:55.161Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Did you not understand that the peril of knowledge is only if one does not follow what one knows? Knowledge is not something to be feared but to be sought after and this is true of all knowledge. Of course with knowledge comes responsibility to use that knowledge well and this is again true of all types of knowledge.

if we become unworthy of returning to God that removes a lot of the reason for being here. Why not be embodied and immediately die? The purpose of life then having been completed.

I actually had a discussion on Less Wrong already that covered this. The only purpose of life is not just to gain a body but also to see if we would choose to follow what is right. I do not know what the state of those that die before they are able to make such choices is except that they are saved and exalted. I see I did not explain that this life is for testing to see what we will do without the constant certainty we had before.

If his revealing himself helps people to do right rather than wrong more than it imperils them, then in his not revealing himself to me I have lost something.

This is a personal thing, if Him revealing Himself to you helps you to do right rather than wrong more than it imperils you then in His not revealing Himself to you, you would have lost something. The only way it would hurt more than help is if you were to listen and to not follow, just as the only way it would help more than hurt is if you were to listen and to follow.

I'd be more than happy to give symmetrical power to an AI, assuming I had godly powers.

Would you then be willing to entrust that AI with control of some world populated with billions of people?

If you take it to the extreme, omnipotence and reason are mutually exclusive criteria. (Outside, perhaps, of an inability to commit logical contradictions, but that doesn't really seem to be involved here.)

We would need to precisely define omnipotence as it is often understood to be an nonsensical concept. Also, the type of omnipotence that God actually has (as understood by me, a Latter-Day Saint) is nothing like what other Christians claim He has.

There are more restrictions then just an inability to commit logical contradictions. If I have said something contradictory then please point it out so I can see if that is what I actually meant and if it is, if that is actually what the doctrine is.

I've seen no proof of right and wrong. A feeling certainly isn't proof; asides from anything else I've felt different ways about ethical issues at different points in time.

This goes back to why God reveals Himself, so that we can find out what is actually right. If you are doing what is right to the best of your understanding and knowledge as it currently is then that is fine. If with a greater understanding things you thought were right turn out to have been wrong then you are not accountable for doing what was wrong if you actually thought it was right. The ability to judge what is right and wrong is given to everyone.

comment by CuSithBell · 2011-05-18T00:52:25.741Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

However, what makes you think that God is willing to play such a game? He isn't a genie or oracle that grants every random wish. I could be wrong but I doubt He would be care to be treated so lightly.

Providing solid evidence is the only way to reach people who don't believe things without evidence. Some sort of effort in that direction would be expected of someone benevolent towards these people who predicts that this belief would be valuable. That's the way it seems to me at least.

comment by JohnH · 2011-05-18T01:09:50.776Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

So a prophecy of something happening in the world at large does not count as evidence if it comes true but predicting a coin toss does?

comment by Nornagest · 2011-05-18T01:40:26.055Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

A prophecy counts as evidence of privileged information insofar as it generates accurate predictions. Generally it doesn't, by itself, tell us much about the source of that privileged information, but the circumstances surrounding its creation might imply some intelligence worth updating on.

On the other hand, essentially all of the prophecies -- regardless of their source -- that I'm aware of are unfulfilled, unverifiable, vague or ambiguous enough to have no predictive value, or outright fraudulent. Now, I'll be happy to update if the Rapture happens on May 21 as the billboards lining my commute keep insisting, but I'm not holding my breath.

comment by CuSithBell · 2011-05-18T01:44:00.652Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Yeah, this.

comment by JohnH · 2011-05-18T02:17:25.482Z · score: -2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

To begin with the Rapture as understood by the evangelicals will never happen. Therefore, it will not happen on May 21. I seriously doubt saying that will increase anyone's estimation of my religion.

I have provided specific examples of prophecy that have been fulfilled. I am also able to provide more if it is so desired.

comment by knb · 2009-04-27T17:33:51.109Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Ok, slightly off topic. One of my best friends in eighth grade realized that his sister wasn't exactly his sister in our biology class. We were doing punnet squares, with the recessive blue eyes example. His parents both had blue eyes and blond hair, and his sister had brown hair brown eyes. A few decades ago, his mom might have gotten away with it. Deception is bad.